The Legislature’s repeated failure to finish a meaningful restructuring agenda year after year is a clear indication that many lawmakers really aren’t all that unhappy with a dysfunctional system that shortchanges their constituents on accountability, frugality and oversight. Early action to create a Department of Administration would signal that this session is going to be different.
The Department of Administration bill appeared to be headed for approval last year, but it faltered for the third year in a row at the end of the session. Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, a conferee on the bill, said last Thursday that he hopes to see progress as early as this week on a restructuring plan.
That would be an encouraging sign. But we were encouraged last year when the Senate adopted a Department of Administration bill in February, only to see it falter in June.
The bill would eliminate the five-member Budget and Control Board, on which the chairman of the House budget committee has a vote equal to the governor of the state. Most of the responsibilities of the board would be transferred to the governor, who would have broader executive powers over human resources, fleet and property management and information technology.
One sticking point has been who will call the shots on state procurement. The Legislature should be willing to transfer those responsibilities to the governor. Presumably, the chief executive can administer the state’s procurement code at least as well as a legislative committee.
The bill would give the governor a responsibility over the management of state government comparable to her counterparts in virtually every other state in the nation. No state has anything resembling the cumbersome B&C Board.
Other pending restructuring issues include giving voters the opportunity to decide whether constitutional officers, including the state Superintendent of Education and the Adjutant General, should be appointed by the governor, instead of being elected. Certainly, the governor should be more involved in decisions about education, one of the central responsibilities of the state. And South Carolina is the only state in the nation where the adjutant general, who commands the state’s National Guard, is elected.
At the least, the Legislature should be willing to provide for a referendum, to give its constituents a chance to make the call, after hearing the pros and cons.
In last Thursday’s pre-session discussion with the media, several legislators insisted that the reform of the state Department of Transportation needs to be reconsidered, preparatory to any increase in funding to the department.
They cited dissatisfaction with the 2007 reform of the DOT, though some of the objections centered on their inability to get pet highway projects in their own legislative districts.
Mainly, the DOT should be encouraged to stick strictly to its ranked priorities so meager funds can be used to best effect.
A better subject for road reform would be the State Infrastructure Bank, which has become the surprise decision maker on major road projects, acting with little public oversight, and largely controlled by the appointees of two powerful legislators — the speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tempore. The SIB was created to be a financing instrument for road projects, not a shadow highway commission.
For years, there has been talk about streamlining government, making it more accountable, and encouraging more transparency in its operations. Mostly, though, the Legislature has been willing to turn over to the governor only troubled agencies like the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the Employment Security Commission.
Eventually state voters will get the opportunity to vote on party candidates for governor and lieutenant governor as a ticket in the general election. But it won’t happen until 2018, which is further evidence of the Legislature’s unbelievably slow timetable for reform.
The Legislature should move expeditiously this session on a reform agenda, leading with the creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Administration.