The year was 1990, the Legislature was under federal investigation that would result in the indictment of a tenth of its members on corruption charges, and the popular Gov. Carroll Campbell saw his opening to launch an all-out push to consolidate the executive functions of state government, which were dispersed among an array of autonomous agencies, boards and commissions, into a more modern and workable format providing a greater degree of accountability.
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It wasn’t an easy battle, but with the support of The State’s editorial board and even its news department, the business community, many good-government organizations and eventually the Democratic leadership of the S.C. House, the once all-powerful General Assembly voted on June 14, 1993, to sweep aside more than two centuries of tradition and hand a third of its Legislative State to the governor.
The change gave Mr. Campbell and his successors more authority than any chief executive in South Carolina history except those who ruled during the Revolutionary War and Reconstruction.
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In an effort to inject accountability into government, the legislation condensed 75 agencies into 17, and let the governor hire and fire the directors of 11, including those that collect taxes, imprison people, provide health care and food for the poor, make sure children aren’t abused or neglected, recruit industry and regulate insurance rates. Governors also could fire the people they appoint to boards that run 29 other state agencies, something no one had been able to do up to that point.
Yet the 1993 restructuring act fell short of what was needed. Legislators jealously guarded their control of road construction and severely limited the governor’s power over law enforcement and environmental regulations. At no time did they seriously consider giving the chief executive any authority over education — the work of half the government.
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In the quarter-century since, the Legislature slowly has ceded more power to governors, primarily giving them control of the government’s central administrative agency and allowing them, starting in 2018, to pick their own lieutenant governors and appoint the adjutant general. But much of the government is still shielded from political accountability, and the Transportation Department is still controlled by legislators, as demonstrated day after day in the parochialism that defines our state’s road-building decisions.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.