While a "B-" could be considered a respectable grade, it was just average in the annual scorecard of the states released this week by the Pew Center.
South Carolina earned a "B-" along with 17 other states. Thirteen states scored higher grades, while 19 scored below the average.
Utah, Virginia and Washington state, each with a score of "A-," have the most effective state governments in the nation, according to the Pew scorecard. New Hampshire, with a "D+," scored lowest.
This scorecard assesses the nuts and bolts of government efficiency. Pew looks at the mechanics of the state operations, including their budget processes, strategic workforce planning, training and development, and project monitoring, among others.
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The review process appears to put a high value on smoothly operating government, high accountability, innovation and results. And it appears to take a nonpartisan approach to judging the states.
This year's report, in fact, faulted South Carolina for letting partisanship bog down governmental operations. After noting that the governor can't do much without the Legislature's cooperation, the report stated: "The second thing to know is that, especially in recent years, the governor, House and Senate have disagreed about virtually everything."
The report also says the state Budget and Control Board has been "mired in a morass" of partisan disputes. And a power struggle between the governor and the Legislature over running the Department of Transportation resulted in a "hapless arrangement" that has hindered the department's operations.
The state's greatest weaknesses, the report says, are in planning and maintaining roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Are there any areas where the state shines? The report credits the Office of Human Resources for providing sound human-capital planning. And, even though the state is cash-strapped, it gets points for offering incentives to high-performing employees. And the state government is judged to be good at producing information -- but not always so good at using it.
None of this should come as much of a surprise to those who have observed the workings of the state government over the past several years, especially the relationship between Gov. Mark Sanford and the Legislature. Most probably would agree with the Pew assessment that "where politics isn't in the way, South Carolina does many things right."
While much of this may be obvious, it is useful to have an objective assessment from disinterested observers outside of the state. Politics is likely to remain "in the way" of substantive progress on many fronts, but at least this report could prove useful in pinpointing where some of the problems are.
We would agree that finding money to fix dilapidated roads and bridges -- and build new ones where needed -- is one of the biggest challenges facing the state. Solve that one, and maybe we can get a "B+" next year.
Pew Center's scorecard on the states looks at nuts and bolts of state government.
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