Abandoned Buildings Act: Yet another careless, clueless veto by Henry McMaster overridden

October 12, 2018
Press Contact: Brad Warthen, 803-315-1886

COLUMBIA, S.C. – This is the story of yet another Henry McMaster veto that was easily overridden by the Republican-led Legislature. It’s another case in which he amply demonstrated that he has no clue how to lead our state forward.

The bill he vetoed was the reauthorization of the Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act, which without renewal would have sunsetted in 2019. The reauthorization was a top 2018 goal for the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

The law was originally sponsored in 2013 by Rep. James Smith, the Democratic nominee for governor. Since then, it has become a critical tool for South Carolina cities seeking to turn blights into vital economic engines. The law gives developers a 25 percent tax credit to redevelop a building that’s been at least 66 percent vacant for the past five years. Without that incentive, cities have trouble finding developers willing to take a risk on an old building.

“It’s been a hugely positive thing for our cities,” said Smith. “Nothing has ever been said or written negative about it.” And make no mistake – this legislation was supported as strongly by Republicans as Democrats. The chief sponsor of the reauthorization was Republican Rep. Derham Cole of Spartanburg – one of a number of cities that have multimillion-dollar projects pending that depend on the tax credits the law provides.

The bill passed the S.C. House back in the summer 99-1, and the Senate unanimously.

And then McMaster vetoed it.

The excuse he gave sounded plausible. Unrelated measures had been tacked onto the popular bill along the way, and the state constitution requires that each bill “shall relate to but one subject.” It’s an important principle, because it keeps the legislative process open and transparent.

The problem is that McMaster had nothing more to say. He didn’t acknowledge the bill’s value. He expressed no regret in killing it. He didn’t say, “Give me a clean bill and we’ll get this done.” In fact, he gave no sign whatsoever that he understood the importance of the bill to economic development in South Carolina.

He wouldn’t have been so clueless had he spoken with anyone who knew anything about the bill.

“It was a very important piece of legislation for the city of Columbia,” said Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall. He said the redevelopment of the Babcock Building, the centerpiece of the enormous mixed-use Bull Street project on the 181-acre grounds of the former state mental hospital, is completely dependent on the Act. “It’s really hard to get that building under contract without having that tax credit.”

Fortunately, last week lawmakers easily brushed aside McMaster’s veto, the House overriding it 112-4, and the Senate by 31-8. So the Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act will continue to help fuel growth in place of decay in South Carolina’s cities.

“This is another case of Henry McMaster showing indifference to South Carolina’s economic well-being,” said Smith. “From supporting tariffs that disproportionately harm our state to thoughtlessly casting aside an economic development tool like this that everyone else appreciates and supports, this governor has shown cluelessness and apathy about the things that matter to South Carolina’s future.”

Which has been the pattern with Henry McMaster.