State lawmakers chose a good way to start the new legislative session: passing a bill that substantially restructures state government.
The speed with which lawmakers passed the bill belies the fact that they have been debating it for at least a decade. Nonetheless, it stands as a major and necessary accomplishment.
Passed unanimously in the House and by a margin of 39-4 in the Senate, the bill creates a state Department of Administration that reports directly to the governor. The new agency will control human resources, information technology, state vehicles and state-owned buildings, among other things.
The bill also partially dismantles the state Budget and Control Board and divides its responsibilities, which have included running much of the executive branch of government. The board consists of the governor, the state treasurer, the comptroller general, the Senate Finance Committee chairman and the state House Ways and Means Committee chairman, and a board with exactly the same members – the new State Fiscal Accountability Authority – will continue to oversee purchasing and borrowing.
But the board no longer will have authority over day-to-day functions of state government. That responsibility now will fall largely to the Department of Administration, which answers to the governor.
Under the bill, the state Board of Economic Advisors would become an independent agency, forecasting revenues and evaluating the potential economic impact of new legislation. Also, state agencies would not be permitted to run deficits unless they first receive approval to do so by the Legislature.
Lawmakers also would be required to review every state agency and every program on a five-year rotating basis. That will be a lot of work for the Legislature, but it does help ensure better oversight and regular evaluation of agency programs.
This bill essentially remakes South Carolina’s government. It significantly dilutes the authority of the Legislature over executive decision-making and invests more power in the governor’s office – as most other states already do.
This is a big step. Lawmakers have been extremely reluctant to cede power to the governor.
But work remains. For example, the governor should have the authority to appoint state constitutional officers, such as the superintendent of education, who now are elected, as well as most boards and commissions. That would require approval by voters of constitutional amendments, but lawmakers need to vote to put those amendments on the ballot
Still, South Carolinians can rejoice that genuine reform of state government finally has been accomplished and that the governor will have the authority to act as a real chief executive and the voters can hold the governor accountable for the results.