COLUMBIA — The largest overhaul of state government in decades depends on the South Carolina House and Senate being able to resolve three points of contention.
The chambers passed separate versions earlier this year of a bill aimed at modernizing government and making it more accountable. A conference committee on Thursday reached agreement on four outstanding differences. But the two chambers remain at odds on who’s in charge of procurement, deficit prevention and budget estimates, which have long been the big three issues.
But Sen. Thomas Alexander, the panel’s leader, said he’s optimistic an agreement can be hashed out.
“We’re close,” he said.
The bill breaks up the little-understood-but-maligned Budget and Control Board and divvies up its duties among existing and new agencies. Most of its 1,000 employees would transfer to a new, Cabinet-level Department of Administration that puts the governor in control of bureaucratic duties such as fleet and property management and janitorial services – responsibilities nearly all other governors have as the state’s chief executive officer. The measure also requires the Legislature to have more oversight of state agencies, by requiring hearings and periodic reviews.
The conference committee, which consists of three legislators from each chamber, won’t meet again until the Legislature returns in January.
Both Gov. Nikki Haley and her chief Democratic opponent are pushing to finally get the proposal to the governor’s desk. Haley has made restructuring a signature issue of her administration. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, has been the idea’s chief sponsor for years, even as it died repeatedly throughout former Gov. Mark Sanford’s tenure.
If the 2014 session ends without passage, the whole effort must start over – again.
Sen. Shane Massey noted the bill is complicated by politics on several levels: the 2014 gubernatorial race between Haley and Sheheen, in addition to friction between the governor’s office and the Legislature and between the two chambers. Last week, Haley criticized the conference committee for not meeting over the off-session to iron out a deal.
Massey, who worked with Sheheen to push the bill through the Senate last February – record speed for a chamber where the effort died repeatedly – said he appreciates the frustration.
“I’m frustrated, too,” said Massey, R-Edgefield. “We’re obviously close. That’s what makes it more frustrating not to have it finalized.”