As debate on the state budget continued in the Senate last week, the Senate Finance Committee endorsed a continuing budget resolution that would keep the state operating at present budget levels if a legislative agreement can’t be reached on the spending bill by July 1. Shades of the U.S. Congress.
The situation described in that resolution is a good argument for the upper chamber to get to work earlier and stay longer — before the final few weeks of the session.
While the Senate wrapped up most of its work on the state’s operating budget late Thursday, it has yet to complete its work on the capital reserve section that determines which building programs get funding.
Meanwhile, two essential pieces of legislation — the ethics reform act and the Department of Administration bill — have yet to be acted on. They can’t be allowed to languish.
The Department of Administration bill — the most ambitious restructuring proposal in years — faltered at session’s in each of the two years. It’s been exhaustively debated over that period.
The bill has been approved by both House and Senate this session — a first — but the House version is headed back to the Senate for further amendments before going to a conference committee.
Legislators should be able to recite by heart its extensive recommendations for streamlining government and improving accountability.
They should be able to reach an agreement easily on this important reorganization of state government. It will give the governor the authority over a wide range of state operations — human resources, information technology, fleet management and property management — that any state chief executive should have. Indeed, virtually every other governor in the nation has responsibility for those duties.
The ethics reform bill is equally important. The highest profile bill this session, it barely got out of the House before the deadline for legislation to cross over to the Senate.
The governor and the co-chairmen of her Ethics Reform Commission — former attorneys general Henry McMaster and Travis Medlock — joined with Senate Republicans in a press conference last week to urge its adoption before the session ends.
Gov. Haley said if a few Democrats in the Senate will support passage of the bill it can be passed this year, even as time grows short.
The ethics bill contains provisions for broader income reporting, independent investigation and heightened penalties for violations. It’s not as strong as the recommendations of the governor’s commission, but it would be a major improvement over the current law, which was last overhauled 20 years ago.
The Legislature shouldn’t let the session end without approving both bills. As Gov. Haley said Thursday, “We can multi-task in this state,” adding that the Legislature should demonstrate the capacity to handle more than one major reform in a year.
Over the next two weeks, South Carolinians will be watching .
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