SC State Trustee: 'Chickens have come home to roost' on school's - FOX Carolina 21

SC State Trustee: 'Chickens have come home to roost' on school's deficit

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South Carolina State University is working to try and figure out a way to cut $13 million in spending. University President Thomas Elzey told lawmakers last month he's facing a $4.4 million shortfall that'll turn into a $13 million deficit in June.

The school's Board of Trustees met Wednesday, but did not finalize a plan to turn their finances around.

Elzey says he fully intends to come the State House and ask lawmakers for more tax dollars to help bail SC State out. The president admitted he doesn't have a complete plan yet to deal with the university's money problems.

"I guess I'm as guilty as anybody else of not fully comprehending over the years the fiscal chaos that we have been living in at this university," said trustee Robert Waldrep. "So, now as they say, the chickens have come home to roost."

Reality set in last month for Elzey and the Board.

"The first thing we've got to do is to figure out how to put our finger in the hole and figure out how to stop the leak," said Elzey.

Elzey's finance chief offered up some ideas Wednesday to start cutting the budget: continue a hiring freeze, reduce temporary workers, layoffs, reduce spending, terminating non-essential cell phones, and asking the state to use tax dollars to pay off the rest of the university's deficit.

Elzey blames part of the money troubles on falling enrollment. SC State has lost 1,075 students between 2009 and 2013. That only equals about $11 million over 5 years.

"To those who might have concerns, we're going to make it clear that we are open," said Elzey. "We're transparent, but we truly believe in the mission of this university and that's what we're going to try to carry forward."

Trustee Dennis Neilsen warned the board: if they were a corporation, it would implode.

"Well, they have to make a decision, just like the index says: you have to assess your viability as a business," said Neilsen.

State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, held hearings at the State House Thursday and was part of the senate team that dug into DSS, health and human services and the department of corrections after the state agencies reported deficits in the past.

Now he wants the same for SC State University.

"If they're asking for money, I think it's our obligation to ensure there is a plan to move forward," Massey said. "Based on what I've seen, I'm not confident a sufficient plan exists."

Massey said he wants university leaders to come to Columbia and explain how the university overspent itself by $13 million and how leaders will make sure it doesn't happen again.

"I don't want to get down there and get in their business, but if they're coming back and they're telling us they're having deficits every year and they're asking us for money, it's incumbent upon us to look into that situation," Massey said.

Massey is the first senator to take the floor and discuss SC State's deficit since it became public last week.

State Sens. John Scott, R-Richland Co., and John Matthews, D-Orangeburg, were not happy with Massey.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Scott said. "Grand standing and talking about all these public hearings-- that's not going to answer that. All we're doing is playing to the media part of it. Let's get to the real bottom to take a look at it."

Mathews said Massey is just playing politics.

"I really don't appreciate, nor do I agree with the senator from Edgefield and I really think it's political grand standing at its worst; at the worst time for that university," Matthews said.

The university did not vote on any plan to fix the deficit. University leaders have to send a final plan to fix the spending to the state Budget and Control Board by next Friday. If its tax dollars they want, we got a look at how tough that fight will be in the senate.

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