McMaster removes chair of State Infrastructure Bank

Responding to a chorus that included a bipartisan letter from Charleston-area state lawmakers, Gov. Henry McMaster has removed Vince Graham from his position as chairman of the State Infrastructure Bank.

The bank board has earmarked $420 million for the extension of Interstate 526.   Contributed image

Responding to a chorus that included a bipartisan letter from Charleston-area state lawmakers, Gov. Henry McMaster has removed Vince Graham from his position as chairman of the State Infrastructure Bank.

According to McMaster's press secretary Brian Symmes, Spartanburg attorney John White hs been appointed to fill the post.

State Sen. Sandy Senn (R-West Ashley), along with state Reps. Leon Stavrinakis (D-Charleston), Peter McCoy (R-James Island) and Lin Bennett (R-Charleston) penned the letter to McMaster, arguing the state bank chairman has close ties to those who oppose the extension of Interstate 526. The representatives believe Graham is an “obstructionist,” and claim he was deliberately blocking progress on plans for the extension.

Graham was accused of failing to call or canceling meetings in connection with the project.

In an email response to Senn, Graham said he led the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank, “not the Charleston Regional Transportation Infrastructure Bank" and cited a funding issue that was holding up the I-526 project, Graham wrote.

The bank board has earmarked $420 million for the extension, but Charleston officials are unable to present a credible plan to raise $300 million in matching funds, Graham said.

“Mr. Graham’s informal, night-time email seemed a bit of a knee-jerk reaction,” Senn told Palmetto Business Daily. “It appears he was shocked that as a freshman legislator I would have the gumption to call for his removal.”

Senn said she and the three House members signed the letter because “we see Vince Graham as an obstructionist to obtaining needed roadway projects in the Lowcountry.”

“When I ran for office I pledged my support in trying to move I-526 forward. My letter to the governor was but one of my efforts at easing traffic by calling for a change in the existing [state infrastructure bank] establishment,” Senn said in an email message. “Mr. Graham did not deny much of what was in my letter. Rather, Graham portrayed me as an uneducated freshman senator,” Senn said. “From what I have seen in Columbia thus far, it is precisely the freshmen senators who have no fear. We will come out swinging because we sought our jobs to make a difference.”

In her message to the Palmetto Business Daily, sent from the Senate floor, Senn also was deeply critical of the Post and Courier, which she said failed to publish any story on the day the letter was sent, Feb. 15. This was despite other media outlets publishing the story.

The Post and Courier did publish a story days later, with details of the email Graham sent to Senn.

“The constant negative editorials in the Charleston paper about I-526 should be accompanied by a disclaimer saying that the owner of the newspaper sits on Dana Beach's Coastal Conservation League Board,” Senn said. 

Senn also was deeply critical of the Coastal Conservation League, which opposes the extension of I-526. The CCL claims the 8-mile highway extension is a waste of money, that it will save drivers just 36 seconds on a dialy commute, and that it will contribute to greater urban sprawl. 

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