By KEVIN DIETRICH
For nearly two years, then-Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and his staff brushed aside questions about a little-known competitive grants program that disbursed millions of taxpayer dollars.
Bauer declined to take calls from The Nerve or its parent organization, the South Carolina Policy Council, beginning in March 2009; and repeated efforts to obtain proof that the Senior Center Permanent Improvement Program was operating legally were stymied by his staff.
“We’re satisfied that we’re … legal and ethical,” then-office spokesman Frank Adams said in April 2009.
However, neither Adams nor anyone else in Bauer’s office could provide any documentation, such as enabling legislation for the program, which began in the early 1990s and was supposed to have ended by legislative mandate in 2000.
Bauer will be honored Wednesday when the Lexington County Recreation & Aging Commission names the Batesburg-Leesville senior center after him. The center received $350,000 from the Senior Center Permanent Improvement Program during Bauer’s tenure as lieutenant governor.
The naming ceremony for the “Andre Bauer Senior Center” will take place at 11 a.m. at the center, located at 241 Highland Ave. Bauer will be joined by state Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, and Batesburg-Leesville Mayor Jim Wizowaty, according to Lynda Christison, an official with the county aging commission.
The construction of the Batesburg-Leesville senior center, completed in 2007, would not have been possible without the Senior Center Permanent Improvement Project funding provided by the Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging, according to a press release forwarded by Wesley Donehue, a Columbia-based political consultant.
The program funding covered just over half the cost of the 4,500-square-foot center, the release added.
Bauer, who now lives in Horry County, did not return calls to The Nerve seeking comment for this story.
The Senior Center Permanent Improvement Program was created more than 20 years ago to finance projects at 74 senior centers throughout South Carolina, with the plan that the last of the projects would be completed by 2000.
However, 12 years later and long after all the original projects were finished, the program is still going strong.
More than $12.5 million in tax dollars has been spent since legislation called for the program to be discontinued, and it continues to drain millions with little notice.
In 2009, when the Policy Council asked Bauer’s office for proof of legal authorization for the program, an official with his office responded: “The original legislation was amended by the General Assembly in 1997 to continue it beyond the original list” of 74 projects.
However, according to research by both the Policy Council and The Nerve, there is no longer any legislation authorizing the program to actually use its revenue, which comes from bingo taxes.
In 2009, the Lt. Governor’s office cited Section 12-21-3441 of the state code as authorization for the continuation of the program; but that section has since been repealed.
Representatives with Bauer’s Office were unable to locate any other statute authorizing the specific use of state money for the program.
Bauer’s immediate successor, Ken Ard, also failed to provide evidence of legislation for the continuance of the program when contacted by The Nerve in 2011.
Ard later resigned for campaign finance violations and was replaced by Glenn McConnell, then the president pro tempore of the Senate.
Officials with McConnell’s office did not respond to calls from The Nerve seeking information for this story.
The Senior Center Permanent Improvement Program is funded through the “other funds” portion of the budget. Other funds represent approximately one-third of the current $22 billion state budget, but are often expended on autopilot, with little oversight or transparency.
Programs such as the one in which the Batesburg-Leesville center were funded are simply continued forward each year, will little-to-no evaluation of necessity and efficiency.
Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or email@example.com.