Time is running out for lawmakers to approve the largest government restructuring effort in decades that, advocates say, streamlines much of state government, saves taxpayer money and increases government accountability.
Critics say the bill does not represent real reform and grows the size of government by creating new boards.
Both the House and Senate began debating a compromise version of the bill Wednesday and are scheduled to continue discussing it today.
If approved, it heads to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk. She has made its passage a priority. The Lexington Republican even tried to call lawmakers back into session last summer to get the proposal passed but a Supreme Court ruling found she lacked the authority to do so.
Lawmakers promised that government restructuring would be a top priority this session but have allowed the bill to linger until the end of the legislative session.
Under the bill, Haley and future governors will have direct say over a new Cabinet-level Department of Administration that oversees many administrative functions including the state’s vehicle fleet, state buildings, computer system and purchasing.
The bill also eliminates the controversial State Budget and Control Board that oversees much of day-to-day state government and spreads its functions across new boards.
It not only grants the governor’s office more power but also lawmakers who would:
• Approve or deny any deficits run up by state agencies. Currently, that is done by the Budget and Control Board.
• Hold hearings at least every seven years designed to ensure every state program and agency is meeting expectations. No such hearings are held now, meaning some programs go years without a legislative review.
• Discourages across-the-board cuts when state tax collections are lower than expected and state government spending must be cut. If a cut of 3 percent or more is needed, lawmakers would return to make targeted cuts. Currently, the Budget and Control Board decides how cuts are made and leans toward across-the-board reductions.
• Creates a free-standing Inspector General Office, headed by a governor-appointee who would sniff out fraud and waste in state government but who would not answer to the governor.
House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, said the reform bill does not go far enough, fails to give the governor real power and does not save money.
Instead, Ott said, it grants far-reaching authority to a new board, the State Contracts and Accountability Authority, comprised of the governor, comptroller general, treasurer and two legislative leaders – the same makeup as the Budget and Control Board.
“If all you want to do is put on a show and have a press conference and sign a bill, you should vote for this,” Ott said. “But if you want meaningful reform, you should send this back to conference committee and tell them you want meaningful reform.”
Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.