The South Carolina Legislature was called back earlier this week for what was supposed to be a quick one-day session to pass a piece of emergency legislation that would help prevent a government shutdown and provide emergency funding to address the coronavirus crisis. But a familiar roadblock caused that plan to crumble.
While this was expected to be a quick vote, a resolution in the legislation involving Santee Cooper prevented senators from coming to an agreement, while House members decried action taken by Santee Cooper in recent days to deceive the legislature into believing they had negotiated a deal with Central Electric cooperative.
The latest move by Santee Cooper has angered many including Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina CEO, Mike Couick and Speaker of the House Jay Lucas.
Couick was quoted as saying “I grew up watching ACC basketball and Dean Smith mastering the game of four corners. If Santee Cooper is an expert at nothing else, it is an expert at delay, and delay of reform and transformation…”
In a letter to Santee Cooper’s leadership, Speaker Lucas wrote, “If state law gave me or the House of Representatives the authority, I would seek the immediate unqualified removal of each member of the Santee Cooper Board and the dismissal, for cause, of the entire senior management. Unfortunately for the people of South Carolina, I do not have that authority. However, I do predict and will applaud your ultimate removal from your positions in the appropriate manner.”
You can read the full letter from Speaker Lucas here.
The proposed emergency legislation included plans for COVID-19 funding, education funding for teacher salaries, funding to ensure South Carolina primaries can still take place safely on June 9, and other necessary government-funded operations that would allow the state to continue to run in the case that a budget isn’t passed before the start of the next fiscal year.
It also included a provision to postpone the debate on Santee Cooper and prevent the utility from engaging in any long-term contracts of more than a year until the work on what should be done with the state-owned utility is fully explored.
As reported by the AP, Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore apologized for their actions in an email calling the utility’s words ‘presumptive and premature’.
Moreover, Governor McMaster slammed Santee Cooper on Twitter, saying, “There appears to be no tactic or action too deceitful or reckless for the leaders of Santee Cooper to employ,” accusing the utility of exploiting the current pandemic to avoid a sale or any type of reform.
Senators, on the other hand, debated the resolution for over five hours only to come back with an amended resolution that sent it back to the House for review. Certain senators such as Senator Rankin and Senator Grooms refused to approve the emergency legislation needed to keep the state running because of their support for Santee Cooper and did not want to put any limitations on the utility despite their history of mismanagement and lack of transparency.
Currently, there are plans for either the House or Senate to return to take further action.