SC government restructuring bill heads to Haley’s desk

Associated PressJanuary 21, 2014 

— After a decade of debate, the South Carolina Legislature approved a bill overhauling state government, giving a victory to both Gov. Nikki Haley and her Democratic opponent.

Legislators say the bill heading to Haley’s desk represents the largest restructuring of government in 20 years, since the late Gov. Carroll Campbell began the effort.

“Carroll Campbell is smiling today,” Haley wrote on her Facebook page – the only response provided by the governor’s office. “South Carolina is showing the world that we are no longer in the dark ages!”

The bill’s fate again rested with the Senate, where opponents held up a vote for hours. The House has passed similar versions of the bill repeatedly over the past decade.

Sen. Shane Martin took the podium to argue the compromise is reform in name only.

The bill breaks apart the much-maligned-but-little-understood Budget and Control Board and divides its various responsibilities – which range from economic forecasts to janitorial services – among new and already existing agencies. Job losses are not expected. Most workers would transfer to the new, Cabinet-level Department of Administration, giving the governor’s office responsibility of bureaucratic functions of government, such as human resources and property and fleet management.

The unanimous vote in the House and 39-4 approval in the Senate allows both Haley and her Democratic opponent, Sen. Vincent Sheheen, the bill’s main sponsor, to tout the passage on the campaign trail.

Sheheen has been introducing similar legislation since former Gov. Mark Sanford’s tenure. Haley campaigned on the issue in 2010 and made it a central part of her agenda.

Sheheen touts the measure’s oversight piece, which requires the Legislature to regularly evaluate agency programs and sets up a system for investigative hearings when lawmakers get tips on problems within agencies.

“This culminates a 10-year effort to change the state, that I’ve poured my heart and soul into,” said Sheheen, D-Camden, noting it’s the first law passed for 2014.

Martin complained the bill renames, rather than eliminates, the powerful, five-member Budget and Control Board that oversees the agency by the same name and makes many of the state’s financial decisions.

“This bill seems to create Budget and Control Board-lite,” said Martin, R-Pauline.

Sen. Shane Massey agreed the bill doesn’t abolish the five-member board, composed of the governor, treasurer, comptroller and the chairmen of the House and Senate budget-writing committees. It will continue to oversee purchasing. While the House wanted to transfer that responsibility to the Department of Administration, Senate leaders were adamant that no one person should have responsibility for the awarding of contracts.

“It’s important to understand the Budget and Control Board as we know it today will not exist,” said Massey, R-Edgefield. “The board that has influence over day-to-day functions of state government won’t exist. They’ll have some of the same duties, but the responsibilities are extremely diminished.”

Shane Martin allowed a vote only after the Senate recessed while he met with Haley in her office.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin had warned that adjourning Tuesday without voting could again signal the bill’s death. A similar bill died in the Senate in June 2012 as the legislative session ended without a vote in that chamber.

“While it’s not everything I would have hoped for, it’s a major step forward,” said Larry Martin, R-Pickens.

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