Changes and Evaluation Likely Coming to Lt. Governor’s Office

January 20, 2012

Investigative Reports

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The NerveA proposal that has passed the S.C. House would change the election and responsibilities of the state’s lieutenant governor at the same time lawmakers are questioning the effectiveness of a state office that has faced much controversy in recent years.

Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken, introduced a joint resolution last January to require that the governor and lieutenant governor be elected on a joint ticket beginning in 2014. If the bill becomes law, each gubernatorial candidate would have to be listed with a lieutenant governor running mate on the ballot, and one vote would be cast for both offices.

The resolution would also remove the lieutenant governor’s role of presiding over the Senate and serving as president of the Senate. Instead, state senators would elect their own president from among their members to preside over the chamber and perform related duties.

Young’s resolution, which would amend the state constitution, has 24 co-sponsors and passed the House by a 106-6 vote in March.

If the proposal passes the Senate by a two-thirds majority, the changes will be presented to voters as a ballot measure at the next general election in November and would require a simple majority to become state law.

Under the joint resolution, the lieutenant governor would still be first in line to succeed the governor if the governor dies, is incapacitated or is impeached.

“It makes sense for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to run together as a team which ensures a reasonable working relationship,” Young told The Nerve. “[It] allows for more cooperation between the two offices similar to the dynamic that exists between the United States President and Vice President.”

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley and chairman of the Legislative, Executive and Local Government Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, is seeking to evaluate the effectiveness of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office as a whole.

“That’s what I’m trying to discern. At some point there should be some sort of program-wide audit,” Merrill said in response to questions from The Nerve.

Merrill’s subcommittee is responsible for reviewing the Lieutenant Governor’s Office’s budget request every year. Merrill said he would like to see an audit of the office’s effectiveness going forward.

“It’s a part-time position, and we generally assign it to oversee some other agency in government – the Office on Aging currently, for instance,” said Merrill. “But maybe it doesn’t give the full-time scrutiny or accountability a full-time oversight would give.”

Under former Gov. Mark Sanford’s administration, the Office on Aging was moved into the Lieutenant Governor’s Office from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

In last week’s subcommittee meeting, Merrill questioned whether the Lieutenant Governor’s Office is administering the Office on Aging better than any other government agency could, saying, “Aging has become the reason to have the lieutenant governor, at this point.”

“I have said consistently that I think the Lieutenant Governor’s Office should be put in the Governor’s Office,” Merrill told The Nerve. “Once there, then the Office on Aging could just run out of the Governor’s Office. I don’t think we need a separate office for the lieutenant governor.

“They are doing a good job, for what is a part-time position. . . . We haven’t had as many complaints, but we’ve had more requests for money.”

In last week’s subcommittee meeting, Merrill also questioned why half of the funding for the Lieutenant Governor’s Office coming from “other funds” is automatically renewed each year without evaluation of the programs requesting those funds.

The Nerve has reported extensively about automatic carryover funds in recent months.

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens and sponsor of an unsuccessful bill during the 2009-2010 legislative session that would have abolished the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, believes Young’s bill will become law this year.

“I’m hoping we could get it up for a vote before we get to the budget this year,” said Martin. “I believe Gov. (Nikki) Haley and Lt. Gov. (Ken) Ard support the bill. If there’s a time to get it done, this is the time to do it.”

South Carolina’s two most recent lieutenant governors have both brought the office under fire.

Andre Bauer, who served as lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2011, made headlines for being stopped by police on three separate occasions, including two alleged speeding violations and an incident in downtown Columbia that ended in an officer pulling his gun on Bauer.

Current Lt. Gov. Ard was fined $48,000 by the State Ethics Commission in June for improperly using campaign contributions to purchase numerous personal items including a Playstation and two iPads.

Several phone and email messages left with the state Attorney General’s Office seeking an update on a criminal grand jury investigation of Ard stemming from the Ethics Commission case were unreturned.

Reach Kumar at (803) 254-4411 or at amit@thenerve.org.