Don't pull punches on restructuring issue

Gov. Nikki Haley has insisted lawmakers finish work on restructuring state government this legislative session.

Senators should insist that the finished product constitute real reform and not just a rearranging of chairs and titles.

House members can do better than their too weak bill setting up a Department of Administration.

The details, quite frankly, can overwhelm the most adept policy wonk. But the central goal legislators and the governor should be working toward isn't that hard to understand. Administrative duties should fall to the state's chief executive. Too much power rests in the hands of a five-member board that is a mash-up of the executive and legislative branches. Clear accountability and greater efficiency are what we're looking for.

The House-passed bill didn't go far enough. An amended version in the Senate got closer, but still has a ways to go. Lawmakers can do better and have a chance to do so by voting to take up the bill this week.

The House bill's biggest flaw is that it didn't eliminate the state Budget and Control Board. That board, which comprises the governor, treasurer, comptroller and chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, mixes legislative and executive powers in a way that obscures accountability.

The bill created a Department of Administration and shifted some duties away from the board and to the governor. But it left the Budget and Control Board in place with some key duties -- managing the state retirement system, analyzing the economic impact of proposed bills and overseeing the budget, a key power that includes the ability to demand across-the-board budget cuts when revenue doesn't come in as expected.

Senators, before the regular session ended June 2, improved the House bill somewhat. An amended version eliminates the Budget and Control Board and shifts the Division of General Services, the Division of State Information Technology and the Office of Human Resources to the executive branch under a new Administration Department.

But it also creates a new entity, the State Financial Affairs Authority, which would have the power to make across-the-board agency cuts, oversee the issuing of bonds and oversee insurance services.

More tellingly, it would be made up of the governor, treasurer, comptroller, a senator elected by the full Senate and a House member elected by the full House. That is only a variation on the Budget and Control Board theme.

The amended bill also would shift procurement duties from the Budget and Control Board to this new entity. The House version gives that control to the Department of Administration.

Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort, building on work by the S.C. Policy Council, says he will introduce an amendment to the Senate bill that seeks to correct some of these problems. As he describes it, the changes include:

  • Allowing only the legislature to authorize deficit spending by state agencies and implement mid-year budget cuts.
  • Transferring the Office of State Budget to the Department of Administration.
  • Giving the legislative Joint Bond Review Committee authority to approve all bond issues pending an overhaul of that process.
  • Putting state procurement under the Department of Administration.
  • Putting the administration of the State Retirement System under an independent and qualified board of financial experts.
  • Setting up regular and formal legislative oversight of executive branch operations.
  • Whether Davis can get substantive changes through the legislature remains to be seen, but he should try. His and the Policy Council's proposal would appear to get us closer to the accountability and efficiency we should be seeking.