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Effort to Nix Budget and Control Board, Separate Powers Fails

South Carolina legislators, whose power dominates the three branches of state government, once again have failed to better balance authority among the branches and give their constituents more ability to hold them accountable.

The General Assembly broke down on the matter Thursday afternoon when the Senate voted by the narrowest of margins, 22-21, to carry over a restructuring bill just ahead of the chamber’s scheduled 5 p.m. adjournment for the year.

That killed the bill, which would have eliminated the Budget and Control Board (BCB) and created a cabinet-level Department of Administration (DOA).

But is the bill going up in flames actually a good thing?

It depends who you’re asking.

Gov. Nikki Haley certainly wasn’t happy about it. She had staged a news conference earlier Thursday urging passage of the bill, hailing it as an historic opportunity to remake state government.

But Haley arguably has been more concerned with passing legacy legislation on her watch than with the substance of whatever might make it to her desk.

Last year, when the bill similarly was stalling out at the end of the annual legislative session, she said during a news conference that she wanted two restructuring bills to pass so she could tell South Carolinians that her administration got it done.

However, certain advocates of reform might not be disappointed that the nix-the-BCB-create-the-DOA bill died, because some observers did not see it as real change.

Broad bipartisan support exists, in and out of the Legislature, for getting rid of the Budget and Control Board and creating a Department of Administration under the governor’s control.

The idea is based on an understanding that the Legislature wields too much control over the executive branch of state government, and that one of the key ways it does so is through the BCB.

It is both an agency and a board. The agency handles myriad ministerial functions typically controlled by governors in other states.

The board has authority over much of the state’s finances, such as midyear budget cuts and bonded debt. It has five members: the governor, comptroller general, treasurer and the chairmen of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.

Some parts of the bill received much debate as to whether it constituted actual change or just reshuffled conference table chairs in a State House meeting room.

For example, the measure, H. 3066, would have created a five-member panel to oversee several important financial issues – with the same composition as the Budget and Control Board.

In any case, the effort to achieve separation of powers through restructuring will have to start all over in 2013 if it’s going to happen next year.

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@thenerve.org.

Accountability Budget and Control Board General Assembly Legislation State Agencies