More funding is needed to train workers who need new skills in the shifting job market, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint said Wednesday in a stop here to talk about work force education during a luncheon with students and educators.
The event at Horry-Georgetown Technical College is part of the Republican's tour of the state to promote his plan to cut taxes and promote job growth. But DeMint said the discussion centered on training programs and funding for them.
"The best way we can help colleges like this and communities like Georgetown and like Myrtle Beach is to give these communities more flexibility in how they use their education dollars," DeMint said.
Additional funding for organizations such as HGTC should come from businesses that benefit from newly trained workers and from local taxes, he said.
The discussion was positive and encouraging, but it's not the monetary help that HGTC needs, college President Neyle Wilson said. The college is facing a financial crisis caused by a 30 percent cut in state funding that may be further exacerbated by a 15 percent cut in this year's budget, he said.
"We've been growing atdouble-digit rates, and you can't keep stretching your existing faculty and staff to serve more and more students," Wilson said. "I was hoping he'd say that he thought they'd have plenty of money, but I didn't expect that."
The tuition from more students isn't enough to cover the costs of additional faculty needed to accommodate them, Wilson said. If further budget cuts go through, the school would need to increase tuition, he said, a move he's hesitant to make because a small tuition hike can have a big impact on the school's middle-income students.
State funding has gone from a peak of $4,000 per student in the early '90s to $1,700 per student now, said Harold Hawley, HGTC's vice president of business affairs. The college increasingly cobbles together tuition, federal grants and private funding to make up for the decreasing state funds.
"We've gone from being state-funded to state-assisted," Hawley said.
More state dollars could solve the problem, Wilson said, but he doesn't expect legislators to provide more money anytime soon. He's been told to expect the next two years to be lean on state funding, he said.
Even if budget woes are solved, HGTC cannot solve the broader problem of unemployment, Wilson said.
"[DeMint's] concerns are the same as mine; we need jobs," Wilson said. "This institution doesn't create jobs, we just provide training opportunities."
DeMint's jobs creation plan focuses on tax cuts to promote growth. The first-term senator proposed the cuts as an amendment to the stimulus bill in February 2009, but the motion was voted down 36-61.
According to an estimate by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, a plan such as DeMint's would have created about 28,000 jobs in South Carolina and more than a million jobs nationwide in 2013. He is continuing to pursue the cuts as part of his "American Option" Jobs Plan. DeMint may reintroduce the proposal, but it's unlikely to become law, said Wesley Denton, DeMint's spokesman.
"Obviously, with Democrats in full control, he is very unlikely to receive a hearing in committee," Denton said.
Wilson said he supports DeMint's plan to cut taxes, especially for small business owners.
DeMint faces challenger Susan Gaddy, a Charleston attorney, in the upcoming GOP primary and if he wins, will face one of two Democratic primary candidates in the general election this November.