Funding for USCB Gains Momentum
By Sarita Chourey
Morris News Service
February 11, 2013 — COLUMBIA - Federal election politics and state budget maneuvering are colliding.
And at least one winner may be the University of South Carolina Beaufort.
Members of the Beaufort County legislative delegation and campus administrators have been pressing the case for state funding parity for USCB to a key budget-writing lawmaker.
That lawmaker is Rep. Chip Limehouse, who chairs the Ways and Means subcommittee for higher education, placing him in a critical position to prioritize funds.
But USCB supporters know something else: The Charleston Republican is also running for Congress in the special election for the district that was recently redrawn to include Beaufort County.
The Charleston Republican, "is very keenly aware that we're watching his support of this issue," said Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort.
"I think that it is important that we let him know that his support for our area in this particular situation is going to show his support to the overall district, and not just a focus on Charleston," she said.
Limehouse is one of 16 Republicans running in the March 19 GOP primary for 1st Congressional District, vacated by former Rep. Tim Scott.
Beaufort County voters
Alleviating USCB's funding disadvantage is "definitely on my radar," said Limehouse. The reason, he said, is that it's simply the right thing to do.
Advocates for bringing USCB funding up to the average say doing so would level the playing field, and that Beaufort students are just as deserving as any other students. Their campaign to raise the school's per pupil state appropriation from $940 to the average of $2,487 also advocates for USC Aiken, which receives only $2,297 and USC Upstate, which gets $1,701. The Aiken and Upstate schools are not located in the 1st Congressional District.
The newly drawn district covers most of Charleston and Beaufort counties and parts of Dorchester, Berkeley, and Colleton counties.
Asked if he sees championing USCB funding as a way to win over Beaufort County voters, Limehouse said: "I'm approaching higher education from the standpoint of where the greatest needs are."
Limehouse's important budget-writing position may elevate his profile over others, most of whom aren't in the state Legislature.
But it may also create some awkwardness for those who are.
Rep. Andy Patrick, is also member of the Beaufort County delegation, representing Hilton Head Island. Patrick is also competing against Limehouse and the rest of the candidates for 1st Congressional District.
"I don't think it's a factor," said Patrick, adding that the funding disparity and efforts to change it are more "inside baseball" among those affiliated with the university than common knowledge.
But he said he understood Erickson's point.
"I'm sure that if Chip wasn't inclined to push for parity for USCB before, he might be inclined to do so as he's going around and trying to introduce himself to Beaufort," added Patrick.
Local legislators most vocal
Does Limehouse see USCB's funding challenge as a higher priority than those of USC Aiken and USC Upstate?
"Beaufort has made the strongest case so far, and there's not a lot of money to spread around (on) higher ed," said the lawmaker. "We've been hearing more from the Beaufort delegation and folks than we have from other groups."
Sure enough, they've been making noise.
Local lawmakers have been arguing ardently for $2.2 million to raise the per-student allocation. One member, Rep. Bill Bowers, was criticized last month by a Columbia political blog, in part, for lobbying for USCB funding despite working there as faculty.
Meanwhile, Limehouse emphasized that the funding effort has a long legislative journey to make.
"Our subcommittee is only the first stop," said Limehouse. "We're trying."