Key test for new treasurer
Newly appointed state Treasurer Converse A. Chellis III will soon cast what may be his most important vote as a member of the powerful state Budget and Control Board. That vote likely will make or break the potential for reforms to that agency, recently recommended by a citizens' task force, that could result in millions of dollars in savings.
At issue is who the five-member board will choose to replace former executive director Henry White, once a top aide of the governor, who chairs the board. Mr. White's regrettable departure came just before Mr. Chellis was chosen by his legislative colleagues to replace Thomas Ravenel, who resigned after being charged with cocaine possesion.
Mr. Ravenel's election last year had given the governor an ally on the board on reform issues. It also prompted the resignation of the board's previous executive director, who made it clear he knew that his days were numbered since the balance of power had shifted to the governor.
Mr. Ravenel's predecessor generally voted with the two legislative members of the board, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The fifth member, the comptroller general, has been the governor's reform ally since his election. The speculation is that Mr. White, like his predecessor, decided to resign rather than be forced out. That presumes that Mr. Chellis is more likely to favor his two former legislative colleagues who rarely side with the governor on his reform issues. We'd like to think he'll prove that speculation wrong.
As a certified public accountant, Mr. Chellis should be as concerned as a citizens' task force over the day-to-day operation of the board, which is the state's prime administrative agency. It has authority over such key divisions as the budget office, Board of Economic Advisers, state auditor, general services, human resources, state retirement, and insurance. It has more than 1,000 employees and is third in state spending.
The task-force report characterizes the board's operation as a high-priced, arrogant bureaucracy with costly inefficiencies and questionable practices. The report estimates that at least $146 million of its $1.1 billion surplus could be reallocated to more pressing state needs. Repair of the state's inadequate bridges comes immediately to mind.
The report also notes that the board itself has the power to implement about half of its 61 recommendations. Since the five-member board generally meets less than a dozen times a year, clearly much of the needed reform will depend on the staffs' leadership. That's why Mr. White's replacement, and Mr. Chellis' vote, are so important.