COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s tab for the Boeing Co. plant in North Charleston is growing and the agency running the program said today it will ask the state to cover a $2.9 million shortfall.
South Carolina’s investment in the aircraft maker already is huge already — at least $275 million — and as much as a reported $900 million when local breaks and other incentives are included for a $750 million plant that will assemble one of Boeing’s bigger commercial airplanes, the 787.
The Legislature approved the deal a year ago. By February, the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education got quick approval for $3.1 million to cover initial training startup costs. Legislators then put $3.5 million into the state’s budget to cover training through June 2011. But that wasn’t enough and the agency needs $2.9 million more through June, said board spokeswoman Kelly Steinhilper.
The request for the $2.9 million will go to the state’s financial oversight board on Dec. 14. It will be a big ticket day for that board. They’re also being asked to cover nearly $270 million in shortfalls from the state’s Medicaid, food stamp and welfare agencies who have seen spending soar as the recession and drove demand for services.
Deficit spending has become a big issue with legislators, Gov. Mark Sanford and Gov.-elect Nikki Haley. Sanford spokesman Ben Fox and Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey did not immediately reply to questions about the Boeing spending or other deficits.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, a Charleston Republican, is a key supporter of the Boeing project and said the extra costs are no surprise. “We made a commitment to provide that training. That training is going to provide jobs and some additional revenue for the state,” McConnell said.
However, the Legislature should set aside enough money to cover that without delegating its spending authority to the financial oversight board, McConnell said.
Boeing’s final training tab isn’t known. Steinhilper said it’s expected to be higher as training begins.
“And right now we are working with Boeing the discovery phase to figure out exactly what the training and hiring requirements are going to be for this,” Steinhilper said.
Most of the request is for equipment and materials because the workers have to be trained with the materials and equipment they’ll use. “The parts can’t be substituted. They have to part of the aircraft’s specs,” Steinhilper said. While Boeing has donated some equipment and materials, the state has to buy the rest.
Meanwhile, training instructor costs are higher. Federal requirements limit instructor to handling no more than 10 trainees in a class for the 750 people expected to go through training by June.
Kara Borie, spokeswoman for the state’s Commerce Department said the expenses are worth it because workers are getting skills in handling aircraft and composite materials. “It helps our work force strengthen skills,” Borie said.