South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford delivered his second State of the State address Wednesday and, not surprisingly for a politician who has built a career sticking to his principles, he continued to build on the themes he first spelled out last year: government restructuring and accountability, growing the economy, improving education and boosting the quality of life.
Last year, because it was so soon after he took office, Sanford didn't have time to develop many specific plans to help the legislature work toward these goals. Although he got some constructive reforms through - changes in the Department of Motor Vehicles and campaign finance reform - there was a lot of confusion and miscommunication between the governor and legislative leaders, despite the fact they belong to the same political party.
This year, however, the governor and his staff, in the form of an executive budget he sent up a few weeks ago, have put plenty of meat on his reform agenda for lawmakers to chew on.
There is no doubt in anybody's mind that the state's No. 1 problem is its whopping $350 million budget shortfall. Very little can be accomplished in education, economic development, quality of life or anything else until that's taken care of.
This is why the governor puts so much stress on government restructuring - delivering essential state services more effectively and at lower cost. The way to accomplish this, according to Sanford, is to eliminate or combine 15 state agencies and to take a look at privatizing services wherever feasible including, if need be, some colleges and universities.
A smaller, more streamlined and focused government will also be easier to hold accountable. It would be more difficult for bureaucrats to pass the buck when things go wrong.
In any event, restructuring and consolidation is the best way of getting that $350 million deficit under control. Once that's done, the way will be open for the governor and lawmakers to move more aggressively on the other fronts.
"Government restructuring impacts how viable we are in attracting industry. Government restructuring could well impact the structure of how we provide education in South Carolina. Government restructuring impacts the delivery service mechanism we call government," Sanford said.
Legislators now have the intellectual case for Sanford's goals and, in the executive budget he sent them, a blueprint on how to achieve them. They can't complain about lack of gubernatorial leadership this year. The ball's now in their court.
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