Substance must back up government reform talk

Gov. Nikki Haley's agenda for her second year in office seems to be in order: Job training, tax reform, retirement system changes.

And her No. 1 priority : Jobs, jobs, jobs.

But as she learned in her first year as governor, saying it doesn't make it so, and sometimes even when it looks as if you got what you wanted, real reform proves elusive.

A case in point is Haley's push for a Department of Administration, part of her government restructuring effort. A look at her report card for the legislative session shows the House of Representatives accomplishing that goal, while the Senate received an "incomplete."

But the bill passed by the House fell short of real reform, and senators were right to work to change it.

The biggest flaw of the House version of the bill was that it didn't eliminate the state Budget and Control Board, contrary to the bill's description on Haley's report card. 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 duties away from the board and to the executive branch. 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.

The Senate amended the House bill, eliminating the Budget and Control Board and shifting 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 the amended bill 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.

That new authority 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 slightly revised Budget and Control Board.

With the bill, the governor would get a Department of Administration, but would the people of South Carolina get the accountability and efficiency that lawmakers and the governor say they want and we need?

Sometimes we think lawmakers have delivered reform only to find out they haven't. "Reformer's remorse" certainly is setting in on the subject of the Department of Transportation. The 2007 "reform" of that department appears more and more to have been a charade. We're still seeing money problems and projects funded based on politics rather than road priorities.

Both legislative leaders and the governor say they want "tax reform" this year, but how they define it and what they actually achieve will be more important than the label.

Haley said her legislative report card was aimed at increasing communication between her and the people of the state and between the people and lawmakers.

Keeping voters focused on what is and isn't happening in Columbia is important. But there is a difference between making needed changes in state government and checking items off a list.