Consolidating state operations can save taxpayers big bucks — witness the $1 million in cost cuts achieved by the Department of Social Services just by reducing office space. But an essential requirement of that process is knowing exactly where adjustments can be made, and that requires knowing exactly what property is held by the state.
And apparently not even Gov. Nikki Haley has that information at hand. But that shortcoming should be soon remedied, via her executive order requiring all agencies to comply by Dec. 15.
Apparently the order took some agency officials aback. It shouldn’t have.
Agencies have been required to list all surplus property by law since 1997. And if you know what is surplus, you must first know what isn’t.
The governor’s initiative includes preparing an inventory, considering surplus property for sale, and consolidating agency operations to cut expenses.
“It is unacceptable these agencies can’t give the inventory of what they have,” Gov. Haley said. “It is unacceptable for us to have inventory that is so much they can’t give it.”
The Legislative Audit Council found a similar problem when it inventoried surplus state property in 1999. Despite the 1997 law, only 120 acres had been listed as surplus by the various state agencies — which had the authority to make the determination what was surplus and what was essential.
In contrast, the LAC identified some 3,200 acres that should qualify for sale. As the LAC then observed, surplus property costs the state in more ways than one:
“Land that sits unused, and has no foreseeable future use, is a waste of state assets. It can create maintenance costs and liability risks for the state. When land is owned by the state, it is not available for local community growth or economic development. In light of the increasing value of land, when state-owned land is not needed to fulfill an agency’s mission, it should be returned to private ownership and the local tax base.”
The governor is seeking information across the range of state operations, including higher ed and the state Department of Education. Her intention is to obtain an inventory in time for it to figure into the executive budget, which will be presented to the Legislature early in the session.
Of course, similar savings could be obtained by the long overdue reorganization of state agencies, which would include consolidation of services and property.
So far, the Legislature has been loath to approve restructuring proposals, such as that for a state Department of Administration.
Maybe Gov. Haley can achieve needed cuts in existing operations involving state property.
It would serve as a good argument for her restructuring agenda and as an example that would resonate with the taxpayers who pay the tab.