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Exclusive: After decade of debate, lawmakers agree to restructure government

abeam@thestate.comJanuary 15, 2014 

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    Restructuring state government

    The compromise to be signed Thursday would create a state Department of Administration, reporting to the governor. That agency would control human resources, information technology, state vehicles and state-owned buildings. Other parts of the compromise:

    •  A renamed Budget and Control Board would control state procurement and borrowing

    •  State agencies could not run deficits, unless approved by the General Assembly

    •  The state Board of Economic Advisors would become an independent agency, forecasting state revenues and evaluating the fiscal impact of proposed legislation

    •  Lawmakers would be required to review every state agency and every program on a five-year rotating basis

House and Senate lawmakers have reached a deal to abolish the state Budget and Control Board, transferring most of the state’s administrative duties to the governor’s office in a major restructuring of state government.

The deal, set to be signed Thursday morning by a legislative conference committee, still must be approved by the House and the Senate before it is sent to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk. But leaders in both bodies say they have the votes to pass the bill, ending more than a decade of attempts to create a Department of Administration.

“The push to create a Department of Administration has been a three-year fight and getting it over the finish line will be a tremendous win for the people of this state,” Haley spokesman Doug Mayer said, referring to the Republican’s time in office. “This is another example of South Carolina moving in the right direction.”

The deal means Haley will control the state’s human resources and information technology operations, its fleet of vehicles and state-owned buildings, according to state Rep. Greg Delleney, R-York, a member of the House-Senate conference committee that brokered the compromise.

However, Haley would not have the authority to approve state purchases or issue bonds. Those powers would belong to a newly created State Fiscal Accountability Authority. That authority would be made up of the governor, state treasurer, comptroller general and chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees. Those five officials now make up the Budget and Control Board.

“It primarily maintains the transparency on procurement that is really necessary, that any of these multi-million projects will be independently vetted,” said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, the restructuring bill’s primary sponsor. “That’s important.”

Other parts of the deal include:

•  State agencies could not run deficits, unless approved by the General Assembly.

•  The state Board of Economic Advisors would become an independent agency, forecasting state revenues and evaluating the fiscal impact of proposed legislation.

•  State lawmakers would be required to review every state agency and every program on a five-year rotating basis.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said the bill was the most important restructuring law since 1993, when the state created the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

“This won’t be the end of it,” Martin said, adding the Senate has bills before it to allow the governor to appoint the National Guard’s adjutant general and the state superintendent of education, both now elected by voters.

“This is a set of building blocks,” Martin said.

The combination of giving the governor more control of administrative duties while requiring the Legislature to review state programs “empower(s) the governor’s office and empower(s) the state Legislature,” Sheheen said.

“What we have right now are two branches that, because of a lack of leadership and structure, aren’t doing their job,” he said. “What this legislation does is really hold the governor accountable.”

Sheheen is running for governor and likely will be the Democratic nominee to face Haley in November. He and Haley have spent the last three years battling over the Department of Administration.

In 2011, the Senate did not pass the bill after Haley and her staff worked to quash a late-session amendment co-sponsored by Sheheen. Haley ordered the Legislature back in session to pass the bill, but lawmakers sued her to block that session – and won.

In 2012, the bill died on the last day of the legislative session by one vote – Sheheen’s. Sheheen later said he voted against the bill because he was uncomfortable with some last-minute changes.

Last year, Sheheen was the primary sponsor of the bill – S.22 – setting up two years of delicate political dancing between Haley and her Democratic rival.

“I have spent too many years actually trying to accomplish this to let petty partisan issues get in the way,” Sheheen said Wednesday. “I’m here because I want to accomplish a great thing for South Carolina.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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