South Carolina Senate makes progress on government reform bill

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COLUMBIA — The South Carolina Senate voted Tuesday to eliminate the agency that handles much of the state’s bureaucracy and put much of its duties under the governor’s control.

Gov. Nikki Haley has worked to eliminate the agency.  MICHAEL JUSTUS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MICHAEL JUSTUS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Gov. Nikki Haley has worked to eliminate the agency.

The 36-2 vote represented progress on an issue that has consumed the Senate since the legislative session started last month, plus much of last year. It also hands a win to Gov. Nikki Haley, who refers to the Budget and Control Board as a big, green, ugly monster. The approved amendment abolished that board, marking a major step in the debate. It could mark an end to the powerful, five-member board that oversees the 1,000-employee agency. That board consists of the governor, comptroller general, treasurer, and the chairmen of the House and Senate budget-writing committees, who control issues ranging from mid-year budget cuts to bond approvals to the state health plan.

Haley said the measure is about streamlining government. It puts day-to-day operations in a Cabinet-level Department of Administration, to handle duties such as property and fleet management, and computer technology.

“It’s time for South Carolina to step up for the rest of the country,” Haley said. “This is not about power. It’s about accountability and making our government smarter.”

Former Gov. Mark Sanford, who was usually on the losing side of a 3-2 vote, fought unsuccessfully throughout his two terms to get rid of the board unique to South Carolina, even vetoing funding for the agency, though that was later deemed unconstitutional.

By executing both legislative and executive functions, the hybrid commission runs counter to how government should work, said Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. He and Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, have co-sponsored since last year an amendment eliminating the agency.

“It feels like a major step forward,” Sheheen, who’s sponsored bills on the idea for years, said of the vote. “It’s worth the time and effort. Once this passes, we’ll look back 30 years from now and know we’ve moved South Carolina’s government to the future.”

Debate on the bill will continue Wednesday. The House passed its version last year, as it has for several years. The effort has repeatedly died in the Senate.

BILL ADVANCES

A bill to eliminate the board that oversees South Carolina’s Department of Transportation and give the governor full oversight of the agency is coming up for debate in a House committee.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 16-4 on Tuesday to advance the bill to the floor.

A 2007 law restructuring the agency put it in the Cabinet but gave oversight to a seven-member commission. Six commissioners are elected by legislators from each congressional district, and the seventh is appointed by the governor. Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge thus reports to both Gov. Nikki Haley and the commission.

Haley wants legislators to eliminate the commission, saying the two-boss system is cumbersome and political.

The bill creates a 17-member advisory board to provide input without authority.

– Associated Press


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