State Farmers Market, Budget and Government Reform
By Paul Gable
The seriousness with which SC General Assembly members are taking ethics and government reform this legislative session can be measured, in large part, by what happens in the budget with respect to the purchase of additional land at the state farmers market in Lexington.
The site has considerable environmental issues. It was a toxic chemical waste dump for many years. To this day, there are a number of EPA warning signs on the property and restrictive covenants that seriously inhibit the available uses of the land.
Nevertheless, proposals are back in Columbia for the state to pay approximately $13 million to add three additional lots to its holdings at the current farmers market.
This is an issue that ran out of time for last year’s state budget – it lost out in conference committee. However, that it got that far is a testament to the political realities of South Carolina government.
The land is owned by Bill Sterns, a powerful political donor in state Republican circles and the current Chairman of the Board of the South Carolina Ports Authority.
See a recent list of Sterns’ political contributions here: Bill Stern Donations
We have no evidence of quid pro quo (ie. donations for land purchase vote) but the Senate pushed this issue to the limit last year, only losing out when the House wouldn’t cooperate in the final days of the legislative session.
It now appears to be back and better than ever with a recently completed land appraisal dated January 25, 2013 for the S.C. Department of Agriculture.
Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican legislator for House District 48 and a real estate developer himself, is questioning the appraisal of the land as the first draft of the budget is being considered in the House Ways and Means Committee.
This issue not only affects the state budget, but also presents itself in the special election for the S.C. 1st Congressional District seat. Candidates Larry Grooms and Chip Limehouse have been recipients of Sterns’ political largesse.
Stay tuned as much more will be heard about this issue as the budget makes its way forward in the current legislative session.