Another legislative letdown


Tracy Glantz

It was déjà vu all over again during the legislative session as the Department of Administration — the most significant government reorganization proposal in a generation — failed passage for the third year in a row. Can’t these guys get anything done?

The House and Senate had acknowledged, in separate measures, that the current system of state governance isn’t functional when they agreed to eliminate the State Budget and Control Board in favor of the new Cabinet agency. The change is long overdue.

And now it will be overdue even longer as legislators again failed to reach a final agreement.

The governor’s office continues to believe that House and Senate conferees will yet come to an agreement before the General Assembly returns in January. But that expectation represents the triumph of hope over experience.

The Legislature has been unwilling to relinquish much of anything to the state’s chief executive since Carroll Campbell was governor — and its support of Mr. Campbell’s Cabinet plan occurred in the shadow of Lost Trust, the worst legislative scandal of the 20th century.

Since then the only significant reorganization by the Legislature has been to shovel two perennially troublesome departments over to the governor’s office.

It had to be a surprise to legislators when Gov. Mark Sanford fixed most of the problems at the Department of Motor Vehicles in short order in 2003. Too bad it didn’t lead to more legislative support for further reorganization.

The Employment Security Commission, led by three ex-legislators appointed by their former colleagues, was shifted to the governor’s Cabinet in 2010 only after it drove the state $900 million in debt to the federal government by its incompetence.

And last year, the Legislature agreed to give the voters an opportunity to decide whether the governor and lieutenant governor should run on a party ticket in the general election. That proposal was endorsed by the voters, signaling to the House, at least, that further shifts were warranted in the way constitutional officers are selected.

Bills to make the superintendent of education and the adjutant general part of the governor’s Cabinet passed the House this year, but not the Senate (though the vote on the education superintendent was close). Those bills would have allowed the voters again to make the call.

So far the Department of Administration has consumed hours of exhaustive debate since 2011. It would give the governor executive authority over human resources, information technology, fleet and property management — as in virtually every other state. It would heighten accountability and streamline government operations.

And it would eliminate the five-member B&C Board, which now governs those areas, with the chairmen of the two legislative budget committees given the same level of authority as the governor.

DoA bills were approved in each chamber in plenty of time to expect that a plan could be easily finalized. That it wasn’t hardly bodes well for its ultimate prospects.

And the fact that legislators also failed to close the deal on ethics reform should leave voters wondering: Why are we sending them to Columbia for five months a year? To wax eloquent on nullification?

Some legislators, presumably embarrassed over the failures of the 2013 legislative year, make the point that the session is actually two years long. That gives the Legislature another year to prove that it can pass reform measures that produce something meaningful for good government.

Failure to do so should have electoral consequences for lawmakers who might gum up the works.