COLUMBIA -- The S.C. Senate voted Tuesday to eliminate the agency that handles much of the state's bureaucracy and put much of its duties under the governor's control.
The 36-2 vote represented progress on an issue that has consumed the Senate since the legislative session started last month, plus much of last year. It also hands a win to Gov. Nikki Haley, who refers to the Budget and Control Board as a big, green, ugly monster.
The approved amendment abolished that board, marking a major step in the debate. It could mark an end to the powerful, five-member board that oversees the 1,000-employee agency. That board consists of the governor, comptroller general, treasurer, and the chairmen of the House and Senate budget-writing committees, who control issues ranging from mid-year budget cuts to bond approvals to the state health plan.
Haley said the measure is about streamlining government. It puts day-to-day operations in a Cabinet-level Department of Administration, to handle duties such as property and fleet management, and computer technology.
"It's time for South Carolina to step up for the rest of the country," Haley said. "This is not about power. It's about accountability and making our government smarter."
Former Gov. Mark Sanford, who was usually on the losing side of a 3-2 vote, fought unsuccessfully throughout his two terms to get rid of the board unique to South Carolina, even vetoing funding for the agency, though that was later deemed unconstitutional.
By executing both legislative and executive functions, the hybrid commission runs counter to how government should work, said Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort.
"You don't concentrate power in one body. That's tyranny," said Davis, Sanford's former chief of staff. "It's not good for checks and balances. It's not good for transparency."
He noted it's a bipartisan effort. He and Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, have co-sponsored since last year an amendment eliminating the agency.
"It feels like a major step forward," Sheheen, who's sponsored bills on the idea for years, said of the vote. "It's worth the time and effort. Once this passes, we'll look back 30 years from now and know we've moved South Carolina's government to the future."
Debate on the bill will continue Wednesday. The House passed its version last year, as it has for several years. The effort has repeatedly died in the Senate.
The president of the conservative South Carolina Policy Council cautioned that much work remains.
"This was a good first step, but we can't say it's perfect," Ashley Landess said. Without some changes, "we're still going to have some concentration of power and diffusion of responsibility."
Shortly before the vote, Haley held a news conference to chastise senators for their seeming stagnation.
"They've stalled long enough. We want to see some true work happen," she told reporters. "We're five weeks in. We shouldn't still be talking about the same thing."
Afterward, Haley thanked senators for their efforts to create a meaningful Department of Administration.
The bill sparked a Supreme Court showdown between Haley and legislators last summer when she unsuccessfully tried to force them back to Columbia. While she named three other restructuring bills in ordering what she wanted legislators to pass, she made clear that her top priority was the one the Senate was debating as the clock ran out on the regular session.
The state's high court ruled that Haley's order calling lawmakers back into session during their break violated the separation of powers.