It costs South Carolina taxpayers about $635,000 a year to provide state troopers for traffic and crowd control at big events around the state, mostly at Clemson and USC football games.
According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS), game-day traffic control costs $469,000 a year for Clemson's and USC's home games. The rest of the traffic control expense comes from other big events, like NASCAR's race at Darlington, the Heritage golf tournament on Hilton Head Island, and home football games at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.
But while those events generate millions of dollars, taxpayers pay for the state troopers who work traffic control at them. That's because lawmakers put a provision into the state budget every year that prohibits the Department of Public Safety from charging for the costs it incurs in providing that traffic control.
Lieutenant Kelley Hughes, spokesman for the SCDPS, says, "Public safety is our job. I mean, we're going to be there no matter what, no matter where the funding comes from. When you're looking at tens of thousands of people traveling in and out of those locations, a small centralized location, there's a large public safety concern."
In 2003, 2004 and 2009, then-Governor Mark Sanford vetoed the budget provisions that prohibit the Department of Public Safety from charging for the state troopers' time. In his veto message, Sanford wrote, "The agency should not be forced to subsidize traffic control … especially since the universities are achieving record revenue from the television broadcasts of athletic games."
But, state lawmakers overrode those vetoes every time.
A spokesman for USC said there was no one available to comment on the costs of traffic control.
But Clemson's chief public affairs officer, Cathy Sams, says, "We work closely with the Highway Patrol to develop game-day plans, and utilizing their training and expertise ensures the safety of our fans and minimizes impact on others traveling on our state roads and highways. We would not want to see traffic safety handled by the lowest bidder.
We understand that all agencies are looking to stretch resources, but we should also point out that football games have a tremendous positive economic impact on the state – generating revenues far in excess of the cost of traffic control."
She says an economic analysis done by the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson found that each home Clemson game generates $733,000 in net state revenue.
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