The S.C. Senate on Thursday approved the largest restructuring of state government in two decades, eliminating the controversial State Budget and Control Board and creating a new Cabinet-level Department of Administration.
The measure would strengthen the executive branch, giving Gov. Nikki Haley – and future S.C. governors – direct control of the state agency that oversees a large swath of administrative functions, including the state’s vehicles, buildings, computer system and some purchasing.
Those functions currently are controlled by the five-member Budget and Control Board, an institution unique to the Palmetto State.
“Today, the S.C. Senate took a historic step toward restructuring for the state of South Carolina,” Haley said in a statement.
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Haley pushed for the creation of the new department, even trying to call lawmakers back into session last summer to get the proposal passed. That move prompted a Supreme Court ruling that Haley lacked the authority to force lawmakers to return to Columbia.
But legislators promised Haley they would make an Administration Department a top priority for this legislative session that started in January. Senators spent six weeks debating the bill before passing it 40-0 Tuesday. It now heads back to the House of Representatives, which passed its own version of the new department last session.
Several previous governors, along with lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, have worked to create the new department.
“This means better government. It means more efficient government, and it means a government that can better watch out for the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, Haley’s 2010 gubernatorial opponent, who worked for more than five years to get the measure passed.
Under the proposal approved Thursday, the governor’s office is not the only branch of state government to gain more power.
• 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 four 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.
“We sometimes don’t know what’s going on unless there’s a scandal,” said state Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, who also worked to get the measure passed.
• Discourage across-the-board cuts when state tax collections are lower than expected and state government must be cut. Instead, the measure encourages targeted cuts. Currently, the Budget and Control Board decides how cuts are made and leans toward across-the-board reductions.
“We’re about to bring a government structure built for the 19th century kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” said state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland.
A handful of lawmakers remain skeptical.
For example, state Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, said he needs to thoroughly read the measure.
“If you’ve watched the progression of this in the past few weeks, it’s been a little fix here and a little fix there, and amendments on amendments,” said Leventis, adding he is worried about the unintended consequences that could arise from creating a new department through a series of compromises.
“The Budget and Control Board has its problems. So will the Department of Administration,” Leventis predicted.