SC approves keeping PGA tournament loan in budget
By SEANNA ADCOX
South Carolina legislators voted Wednesday to keep a $10 million loan to the state’s only PGA tournament in the state budget.
The House voted 69-43 to loan the money if the Heritage golf tournament on Hilton Head Island can’t find a sponsor to replace Verizon, which says this is its final year as sponsor. If needed, the loan would come from the state’s insurance reserve fund.
Opponents said it didn’t make sense in a year of deep cuts to services, including layoffs of teachers, state law enforcement, public defenders and Juvenile Justice workers, as well as possible cuts to services for the disabled.
Rep. Nikki Haley led an effort to remove the loan from the state’s $5 billion spending plan — which is down from $7 billion two years ago.
“In a budget year like this, they raided the insurance trust fund — a fund that’s meant to protect consumers after hurricanes and natural disasters — to lend money to a golf tournament. That is so far removed from what our taxpayers want,” said the Lexington Republican.
She criticized federal bailouts of banks and car companies, adding, “Now, we’re going to bail out golf courses. When’s it going to stop?” She asked whether South Carolina would next lend money to steeplechase races.
Supporters of the loan accused the gubernatorial candidate of playing political games.
“Most people are pragmatic. Most are smart enough to see through this,” said Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston. “It supports us. It’s good for the people we represent.”
Democrats and Republicans argued the tournament — held in April following the Masters in Augusta, Ga. — supports hundreds of jobs and pumps tens of millions of dollars into the state through spectators’ spending. According to a Clemson study, more than 70 percent of spectators live outside Beaufort County.
“This is a proven moneymaker for the state of South Carolina,” said Rep. Richard Chalk, R-Hilton Head Island.
Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, said the vote was about showing South Carolina’s commitment.
While acknowledging golf can be an elitist sport, Rep. Jim Merrill said the tournament boosts South Carolina’s image worldwide in a state that relies on tourism, which includes golfing at 360 courses statewide. The Daniel Island Republican said the state must show its support or risk seeing the tournament go elsewhere.
He noted South Carolina has already lost a NASCAR event. Darlington Raceway had been an end-of-the-summer NASCAR tradition from 1950 through 2003 when it hosted the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend as the second of its two NASCAR weekends. The track’s second NASCAR weekend disappeared in 2005, when the Southern 500 moved to the California Speedway.
“The minute we don’t show support for these tournaments, Georgia will, North Carolina will, Virginia will. We’ve got to be a player in these things,” Merrill said.
The nonprofit Heritage Classic Foundation — the tournament’s general sponsor — reported giving more than $1.3 million to charities in 2009, bringing the total to $19.8 million since 2007.
Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot did not immediately return a message Wednesday from The Associated Press.
Of course, the three quoted Representatives are from the Low Country near Hilton Head.
Remember when Governor Mark Sanford didn’t want to take federal stimulus funds? He was vilified because to NOT take those monies would lead to teachers being fired and prisoners let loose on the streets of the Palmetto State. Now, some of those same voices want to use $10 million to prop up a golf tournament.
I like golf – much better than it likes me – but isn’t it fair to say that this money would be better spent on keeping teachers in classrooms and criminals in jail?
In these times, times referred to by legislators themselves as “dire,” is loaning taxpayer money to a golf tournament a sign of good fiscal stewardship?