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Roads, broadband part of SC House’s $1.8B COVID relief plan

COLUMBIA (AP) — The South Carolina House passed its own version of a plan to spend nearly $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money that has just small differences from the proposal passed by the Senate the day before.
The House’s plan spends $800 million on repairing and rebuilding water and sewer systems, $100 million less than the Senate plan. It also sets aside $400 million for expanding broadband internet into rural areas and gives $100 million to the Office of Resilience to fight flooding and buy land in areas that frequently flood. That money is not in the Senate plan.
Both chambers want to give the Department of Transportation $450 million to replace lost gas tax revenue and jump-start projects like widening Interstate 26 to three lanes between Columbia and Charleston.
“We are living in a state that is gradually corroding,” said Rep. Robert Williams, a Democrat from Darlington.
The House approved the plan 99-11 and it needs just one more routine vote. Since the Senate had its own version that passed unanimously Tuesday, both chambers will eventually have to work the out differences to send the proposal to the governor’s desk.
In the House, most questions surrounded the water and sewer improvements. The bill would require larger systems to put up 25% of a project’s cost to get federal money to pay the rest. Smaller systems would need a 15% match.
“The reason we’re asking for the grant is to have some skin in the game — that it wasn’t just a program they didn’t really care about, but they had planned and were willing to spend their own money on,” said Rep. Bruce Bannister, a Republican from Greenville.
The Rural Infrastructure Authority will determine who gets the money and can waive the match if they think a system can’t afford it. There will also be incentives to encourage smaller systems to merge with larger ones.
The 11 votes against the bill were all Republicans. Rep. Jonathon Hill from Townville called the money tainted because of the growing federal debt.
Rep. Josiah Magnuson said he couldn’t support “spending out country into oblivion.”
“We’re borrowing this from our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren,” the Republican from Campobello said. “I don’t know how it I going to all be repaid.”

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