COLUMBIA - The word "restructuring" is enough to make any non-bureaucrat's eyes glaze over.
But to hear advocates, legislators and the governor talk about it, it's one of the central issues facing South Carolina.
Gov. Nikki Haley - and her likely Democratic opponent in the November election, Sen. Vincent Sheheen - have touted the restructuring of South Carolina's government as a signature issue for years.
Both claimed victory last week when the Legislature passed a long-debated bill that streamlines government by moving core functions - like the management of IT systems and state buildings - under the executive branch. It also grants the General Assembly more authority to audit and investigate executive branch agencies, among other changes. Haley and Sheheen both said those changes are among the most significant in 20 years.
At the heart of the restructuring debate is accountability and power. South Carolina has traditionally had one of the weakest governors in the country, and the powerful Legislature has been loath to give up its power. That's slowly changing, but South Carolina still has a way to go, experts say.
"You want to know who's in charge and you want to be able to vote them out of office if they screw up," Mark Tompkins, a University of South Carolina politics professor, said in explaining the significance of this week's restructuring bill. "And that's why you want a (strong) chief executive."
Giving more power to the governor to run state government is also a common-sense plan that most states put into practice a generation ago, he and others said.
South Carolinians will be able to see the changes relatively quickly, the governor's aides said. They called the way things are run now byzantine and ineffective: each agency, for example, has control over its own IT functions, including email. The governor's ability, they say, to write a budget, measure priorities and save the state money because of a strong central administration will be greatly enhanced. "Governor Haley has long maintained that government needs to run like a business and this is a major step in that direction," said Doug Mayer, a Haley spokesman.
Haley explained it in her own way during her "State of the State" speech last week, the day after the bill passed the Legislature. She praised the demise of the board that was for many a symbol of the state's dysfunction: the Budget and Control Board, which doles out state contracts and bonds. It's made up of five members: the governor, state treasurer, comptroller general and the primary budget writers for the House and Senate.
That board is at the heart of what the restructuring debate is all about. Because power and authority is diffused, so is accountability, advocates say.
"...What I call the big, green, ugly monster is dead, and with it the legacy of a backwards administrative government that was as wasteful as it was clumsy, as inefficient as it was embarrassing," Haley said.
But many say that the board exists under a new name: the State Fiscal Accountability Authority. That panel has the same people on it that now oversee the Budget and Control Board, and it will still oversee state contracts.
Voters shouldn't have to hold five people accountable for decisions, said Ashley Landess, the president of the Libertarian leaning South Carolina Policy Council.
"I've seen a lot of rah-rah with what we did from the politicians, but as far as I'm aware no one outside the statehouse is really celebrating this," Landess said of the newest restructuring effort. In South Carolina, a five-member board helps diffuse responsibility and accountability, she said.
"These politicians don't think the public understands what they're doing. They know this board is wrong, they know they can't hold it accountable and they know these decisions are being made without any accountability," Landess said.
The biggest changes to South Carolina's government came under the late former Gov. Carroll Campbell in the early '90s, said Fred Carter, the president of Francis Marion University. Carter served under Campbell and former Gov. Mark Sanford, who both pushed the restructuring issue. Sanford was ill last week and could not be reached for comment.
"The restructuring (last week) is much more micro-oriented with regard to running government on a day to day basis" than the changes in the early '90s, Carter said. Those changes put key agencies more under the governor's direct control. "I think that this phase of restructuring is more moderate - but it's very important to give the governor more control over the day-to-day government."
The next step, many say, is cutting down South Carolina's ballot. Voters are faced with decisions on the superintendent of education and comptroller general, among others, and many voters have no idea who the candidates are or what they do. They're appointed by the governor in other states.
"I'm cautiously optimistic were going to get some of that work done," said Tompkins. "I'm hopeful it won't be 20 years."
The Post and Courier's Doug Pardue contributed to this report.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is greeted by members of the House after delivering her State of the State address to the joint session of the legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)×
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