Eliminating South Carolina's Budget and Control Board might not seem the most scintillating of topics, but it would be a dramatic restructuring of state government, and it could put a lot more power in the hands of the governor.
That board, which comprises the governor, treasurer, comptroller and chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, oversees a 1,000-employee agency with a wide range of duties -- from vehicle and property management to overseeing the state's retirement and computer systems to human resources to procurement to research and statitistics to authorizing the sale of bonds to handling mid-year budget cuts.
The subject is complex, but the goals are simple: 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 seeking.
State Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort has been working to make sure that what happens with the Budget and Control Board and a new Department of Administration constitutes substantive change and not a rearranging of chairs and titles.
That's what we saw last year with the version of "reform" the House passed and Gov. Nikki Haley supported. It created a Department of Administration, but did little to change how state government operates. In June, Haley chastised the Senate for not getting the job done when they failed to pass the House bill and even tried to call them into special session, but the state Supreme Court said no. Her legislative report card showed the House accomplishing the goal of creating a Department of Administration, while the Senate got an "incomplete."
Senators were right to stand their ground, and on Tuesday, they voted 36-2 to eliminate the Budget and Control Board. They already have made changes that would have state agencies report to the legislature when they anticipate a deficit and get approval from lawmakers, not the Budget and Control Board, to operate with a deficit.
Sen. Vince Sheheen, D-Camden, who has been working with Davis on the bill and ran against Haley in 2010, said, "It's been one of my top priorities, and I'm not going to let impatience stand in the way of a good result. When you're changing a big portion of state government, it needs to be deliberative."
Haley on Tuesday praised Senate efforts and specifically thanked Davis, Sheheen and Sens. Shane Massey and Harvey Peeler. She ought to thank them. Their efforts should result in much more substantive change than produced last year.
There's still a lot of work to do. Davis said Wednesday that he expected to spend Wednesday and Thursday "slogging" through amendments to the bill, some good, some bad. But the 36-2 vote indicates support for real change.
A major point hammered out Wednesday was oversight of contracts and other purchases. Sen. Hugh Leatherman, who sits on the Budget and Control Board as Senate Finance Chairman, doesn't want to see procurement decisions go to the governor's office. In a 23-18 vote, he got an oversight commission similar in make-up to the Budget and Control Board.
That's a lateral move at best. Lawmakers need to move forward to achieve accountable government.