Statehouse earmarks over $25 million for projects in Beaufort County. What’s being funded?

Several earmarks for Lowcountry projects totaling more than $25 million are included in House and Senate budgets that negotiators will hammer out this week.

The largest of these earmarks include $10 million to help build a new workforce development center at the New River Campus of the Technical College of the Lowcountry (TCL) in Bluffton, and $8 to $10 million for a new multi-use facility at the Bluffton campus of the University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB).

Also included is $2 million for maritime cybersecurity and health care initiatives in Beaufort, $1 million for building a new shrimp dock in Port Royal and $750,000 for relocating a Hilton Head Island church.

The projects are not guaranteed to pass but are included in either the $13.8 billion House budget or $13 billion Senate budget that are now being reviewed by a six-member conference committee. The full House and Senate will vote on the compromise bill, which also needs the OK from Gov. Henry McMaster.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Bluffton, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said he worked closely with Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, on the Lowcountry requests.

“We get in the trenches and make sure Beaufort and Jasper counties are treated fairly,” Davis said.

Here’s the earmarks included in the House Budget:

$10 million to build the 50,000 square-foot workforce development facility at TCL that will enable the college to serve an additional 850 students a year, with 12 percent from outside the Lowcountry such as transitioning military. The total construction cost is $26 million.

$10 million toward construction of a 131,820-square-foot, $70 million convocation center at the USCB Bluffton campus with a 4,000-person seating capacity. The total project cost is expected to be split between the state and Beaufort County.

$2 million for maritime cybersecurity and health care initiatives in Beaufort. Of that, $1 million would go to the University of South Carolina Beaufort, the Technical College of the Lowcountry, Beaufort County Economic Development Corp. and the the city of Beaufort’s Beaufort Digital Corridor for maritime cybersecurity research and training. In recent years, those entities have teamed up in an effort to create training and jobs in the cybersecurity arena. Another $1 million would go to Beaufort Memorial Hospital to expand training for nurses.

$1 million to the town of Port Royal for to build a dock that would be used by shrimp boats and other vessels. The town received $900,000 from the state for the same project in 2021. The old dock is falling apart and the town is planning to tear it down and build a new dock. A shrimp-processing facility also is in the works.

$750,000 to assist in the relocation of St. James Baptist Church because of a runway extension at Hilton Head Island Airport.

$500,000 for improvements at the Waddell Mariculture Center, 211 Sawmill Creek Rd, Bluffton. Waddell Mariculture Center is a field experiment station of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources where mariculture research is conducted.

$400,000 for educational programming at Port Royal Sound Maritime Center. The not-for-profit Port Royal Sound Foundation runs the museum, which is located at 310 Okatie Highway in Port Royal. It recently constructed a new events pavilion and remodeled its offices for $3 million, which included a $500,000 accommodation tax grant from Beaufort County.

$50,000 for the St. Francis Center at St. Helena. The center provides food, clothing and financial assistance to the under-served and people with disabilities.

$50,000 for Hilton Head Island’s Pregnancy Center and Clinic of the Low Country.

$54,000 for Catholic Charities Getting Ahead Program, which helps those in poverty develop skills needed for self-sufficiency.

Beaufort County Youth Conference, $50,000.

$50,000 for the Beaufort Original Gullah Festival. The festival is May 26-28 at Waterfront Park in Beaufort. It celebrates Gullah Geechee culture with song, dance storytelling.

Here’s what’s in the Senate’s budget:

$10 million for workforce development at the Technical College of the Lowcountry.

$8 million for the USCB convocation center at the Bluffton campus.

$3 million for the Beaufort-Jasper Regional Housing Trust Fund to assist in the development of workforce housing.

$2 million for the Town of Bluffton for the New River Linear Trail.

Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity, $2 million.

$922,000 for interpretation and archaeology at the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park on Hilton Head.

$300,000 for the Hilton Head Island Independent Bridge Replacement Study.

$750,000 for the Hilton Head Airport mandatory relocation of the church.

Earmarks are state funding set aside for projects at individual lawmakers’ request. They received scrutiny following more than a year of reporting by The State newspaper and The Island Packet in 2021 that revealed how legislators previously directed money to local groups through a process shrouded in secrecy, at times benefiting organizations they had close ties with.

Now, thanks in part to a new transparency rule in the S.C. Senate, comprehensive lists of earmark requests and the organizations receiving them are released to the public ahead of budget votes.

As a conservative, says Davis, his priority is passing tax cuts. The second is improving roads, bridges and education.

The third priority, Davis said, is prioritizing funding for localities once its known how much money will be available.

Six members of the Budge Conference Committee — three each from the House and Senate — will go line by line through the budgets to reconcile them, Davis said. He says about half of what each body wants will be cut. A reconciled budget will be voted on by the House and Senate next week.

Davis thinks there is “good shot” the requests from Beaufort County will make it into the reconciled budget.