South Carolina House and Senate leaders tentatively agreed Thursday on a plan that would restructure state government, a deal that would hand new authority to Gov. Nikki Haley while also expanding the oversight role of the Legislature.
Such reform has been talked about for years, and lawmakers said that the bill’s momentum is a good sign that consensus is possible. Still, legislators assigned to a joint House-Senate committee huddled extensively in private before a morning meeting when they were expected to adopt a report that would then be sent to both chambers for approval.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, Haley’s likely opponent for the governor’s seat in the November election, said later that members wanted to have a chance to review the technical document more extensively before signing off. He said that he and others planned to formally sign off Thursday afternoon, but all had agreed in principle to the reforms.
The bill, sponsored by Sheheen, provides an oversight and investigative function over executive branch agencies, while consolidating the functions of state government –- including management of buildings and IT — within the executive branch.
It also creates a new agency called the State Fiscal Accountability Authority, which would control state contracts and bonds. Little, however, would substantially change when it comes to those duties because the members of the board that oversees those functions — the governor, state treasurer, comptroller general and a House and Senate member – remain the same as a similar body that has control over those duties now.
The proposal also does not allow state agencies to run a deficit without the consent of the Legislature. As it stands, departments can run deficits that are approved by the executive branch, Sheheen said.
“This (restructuring) is going to be significant for the future of this state,” said Sen. Thomas C. Alexander , R-Pickens, who chairs the joint House and Senate committee that has worked on the restructuring issue. “We’ve had our differences and we’ve worked through those.”
Sheheen said that it is particularly important for the Legislature to oversee executive branch agencies. The proposal calls for the Legislature’s committees to have subpoena and investigative powers over agencies, duties that would have been helpful after complaints about the Department of Social Services, or last year’s hacking scandal when more than two million residents’ personal information was stolen from state computers, Sheheen said.
Every agency would be reviewed every five years under the proposal. Both Sheheen and Haley support the measure. “I’m putting aside any petty political conflict … and trying to achieve something I’ve been working on for a decade,” Sheheen said.
“The push to create a Department of Administration has been a three year fight and getting it over the finish line will be a tremendous win for the people of this state,” Doug Mayer, Haley’s spokesman, said in an e-mail. “This is another example of South Carolina moving in the right direction.”
The bill is not a done deal —the committee’s tentative agreement sets the stage for debate on the issue in both the House and Senate.