Editorial: Do what it takes to dismantle Budget and Control Board

IT’S STARTING to feel like Groundhog Day around the State House.

The House and Senate both pass bills to turn most central administrative authority over to the governor, yet when the regular legislative session ends, we’re still stuck in a dysfunctional government in which the governor can’t act like a governor and the Legislature can’t act like a legislature.

Two years ago, the House and Senate bills were too far apart to reconcile during the Legislature’s wrap-up session. Last year, the two versions had been reconciled, the House adopted the compromise, but Senate opponents prevented it from coming up for a vote.

We deserve better when lawmakers return to work Tuesday for a brief extended session.

The major disagreement is whether procurement will be controlled by the governor or a scaled-down version of the hermaphroditic Budget and Control Board, whose very existence offends the constitution by injecting legislators into executive decisions. House negotiators want the Senate to vote on their plan to turn control over to the governor, since most senators seem to support that idea. Senate negotiators ought to allow this.

If somehow the Senate adopts it, we’ll have the best possible compromise between these two proposals. And if opponents defeat the proposal, or refuse to allow a vote, then House negotiators need to give in to Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman’s demands and keep legislators involved in procurement decisions.

We support the House’s position, but the fact is that even without procurement, this legislation represents the most significant reform of state government in two decades. It does 90 percent of what we could want — and exponentially more than what House leaders and Gov. Nikki Haley were more than happy to accept just two years ago.

Both the House and Senate bills dismantle the Budget and Control Board, which is the name of a massive state agency that handles administrative functions of government and of its cantankerous governing board, made up of the governor, treasurer and comptroller general and the chairmen of the House and Senate budget panels.

Both versions give nearly all of the board’s executive duties — from human resources and information technology to overseeing building maintenance and parking garages — to a new Department of Administration controlled by the governor. Both end the practice of allowing a quasi-legislative, quasi-executive board to override budget decisions, giving those legislative duties back to the Legislature. Both create a new focus for the Legislature: examining how executive agencies carry out the laws that the Legislature has passed, so it can correct the problems it finds.

The bills thus give the governor the tools to act like a governor and the Legislature the tools and mandate to act like a legislature. This makes it more difficult for either to shift blame to the other, and it should introduce some efficiency into the state’s central bureaucracy.

Anyone who would give up all that just to keep Mr. Leatherman and the House’s chief budget writer out of procurement decisions is talking a good game, but does not truly support reform.