State Senate fails again on government reform
Public accountability took a major hit on Thursday as the state Senate again failed to approve a bill to give the governor authority over a wide range of state operations that should be the responsibility of the stateís chief executive.
The Department of Administration bill failed on the last day of the legislative session in the Senate, the same as it did last year.
Clearly, the Senate is where reform goes to die.
Thatís not to say that there werenít reform advocates in the Senate who sought to advance the bill to create the Department of Administration, and to eliminate the state Budget and Control Board.
Most Senate Republicans backed motions to bring the matter to a vote on Thursday. But all Democrats and a few GOP senators opposed them. A simple majority would have advanced the long-overdue reform, but the final vote failed 21-22.
Some critics say the bill that emerged from conference committee didnít sufficiently strengthen the Cabinet system, and deserved to fail.
Its most apparent shortcoming was the plan to devolve some of the responsibilities of the B&C Board to a new group: the State Contracts and Accountability Authority.
A key supporter of the legislation, Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, acknowledged Friday that the bill could have been stronger. Nevertheless, he estimated that the proposal would have provided about three-quarters of what reform advocates have long sought. It would have been a significant improvement over the current system of governance.
The bill would have given the governor operational authority over fleet and property management, personnel, procurement and information technology. Virtually all governors in other states already have those powers.
But in South Carolina, the Budget and Control Board has the final say-so. That five-member board gives the House member who is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee the same vote as the governor. Thereís no logic and little accountability in such an ill-conceived process.
Certainly, the House thought the reform bill was worth passing, voting 63-35 in its favor.
The Senate? It was willing to allow the clock to run out on the session, ending the two-year effort for the most substantial restructuring reform in nearly 20 years. It was, as Gov. Nikki Haley said, ďdisgraceful.Ē
Sen. Campsen, who introduced the Department of Administration bill in the Senate, explained that some of its opponents donít want to give additional power to any governor, and that others simply donít want to give more authority to Gov. Haley, who has a rocky relationship with the General Assembly.
Neither is a good reason to deny the stateís executive the administrative authority to streamline state government operations.
It was fitting that Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, was part of the effort Thursday to ensure that the Senate couldnít get a last-minute vote on the reform plan as he held forth on an unrelated matter.
Earlier in the session, Sen. Knotts had held up another reform bill ó to allow the governor and lieutenant governor to run on a ticket in the general election.
Sen. Knotts didnít want to give Gov. Haley that authority to pick a running mate if she runs for a second term. And he got his way. The law wonít go into effect until 2018. It was a triumph of petty politics over timely reform.
Sen. Knotts canít be blamed altogether for Thursdayís inaction, but itís clear that he represents the forces of obstructionism.
In that sense, he speaks for the Senate.
Moreís the pity.