Grassroots’ Organizations Call on State Leaders for ‘Real Reform’

March 6, 2012

Investigative Reports

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Press Conference(Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Wednesday, March 7, 2012.)

Grassroots activists took both state lawmakers and Gov. Nikki Haley to task at a press conference Tuesday, decrying what they perceive as insufficient efforts by officials to bring real reform to South Carolina.

The gathering, held inside the State House and featuring representatives from several different groups, including Campaign for Liberty, the Columbia Tea Party and GPS Conservatives for Action, focused on H. 3066, known as the Department of Administration bill.

The legislation, which would enact significant changes, passed the House and was amended and passed by the Senate. It is now back before the House.

Those on hand at the press event said it falls short of true, comprehensive reform.

“I’m not certain that we’re dealing with reform so much as we’re dealing with reshuffling,” said Harry Kibler, founder of RINO Hunt and a key organizer of the press conference.

“We’ve heard comments made from numerous elected leaders that what was passed in the House, went to the Senate and is now back in the House is historic reform in South Carolina,” he said. “The analysis that we have looked at doesn’t quite show historic reform. The closest it comes to historical is the fact that history is replete with elected folks having power and wanting to retain that power.”

H. 3066 has been revamped since being introduced by Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, last year.

The version now back before the House would eliminate the longstanding five-member, quasi-executive, quasi-legislative Budget and Control Board and put a number of administrative functions of state government currently controlled by the BCB under the control of the governor.

But it also would create several freestanding, decision-making bodies that would be appointed by both the executive and legislative branches, replicating the power-sharing makeup of the Budget and Control Board.

In previous comments to The Nerve, Kibler has also contended that the bill would give lawmakers the power to award certain state contracts, which he noted is an executive-branch function; and the authority to require private citizens to appear before legislative committees for sworn testimony.

“What we’re asking for is very simple: we want a true separation of powers, we want to know who’s responsible … and we want accountability and transparency,” Kibler said Tuesday.

“We’ll not settle for half-hearted measures and campaign talking points,” he added. “We’ll insist on the government that we deserve and that we pay for.”

The South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, has also expressed concerns with the H. 3066.

The Budget and Control Board, which dates back to the 1950s, consists of an agency and a board, both of the same name.

Widely described as unique to South Carolina, the board is made up of the governor, comptroller general, treasurer and chairmen of the House and Senate budget-writing committees.

It has long been criticized as an unaccountable hydra that tramples the constitutional separation-of-powers doctrine, fostering inefficiency and dysfunction in state government.

Smith’s bill, which passed the House last year, originally kept the BCB intact and maintained some of its key responsibilities, including oversight and management of state employee benefits, though it also created a cabinet-level Department of Administration.

At the end of the 2011 legislative session, a bipartisan group of six senators introduced an amendment that completely reworked H. 3066. The amended version eliminated the BCB board and agency, but created a similar decision-making panel.

Haley had championed the creation of a Department of Administration as one of her signature goals. The revamped version drew her ire, decrying it as a poison pill aimed at sinking the bill.

A Department of Administration bill that doesn’t bring real reform isn’t acceptable, according to Talbert Black, interim chairman for the state chapter of Campaign for Liberty.

“We didn’t want to get rid of the Budget and Control Board just to check off a box that said we got rid of the Budget and Control Board,” he said.

“We want to get rid of the Budget and Control Board because we want a separation of powers, because we want accountability, because we want transparency,” Black added. “And if a substitute for the Budget and Control Board doesn’t give us those things – and it doesn’t – then it’s not acceptable.”

Kibler said it’s essential that concentrated power not reside in the hands of a few people, as has happened in South Carolina government for many decades.

“We know the principle of good government is the disbursement of government, the separation of powers,” he said.

“We know the principle of good government is not secrecy, but openness and transparency. And we know the promise of good government comes in accountability,” Kibler added. “What the House originally passed and sent to the House contains none of those things; what the Senate passed and sent back to the House still contains very little of those things.

“And they want to call it historic?” he said. “It’s not historic; it’s rearranging the deck chairs while South Carolina’s ship continues to take on more water.”

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.