Kissed by a Pig

January 23, 2014

Inside Insight

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By ASHLEY LANDESS

ariail kissed by a pig

The Legislature passed a restructuring bill and eliminated the Budget and Control Board (BCB). Is that big news? Definitely – but not for the reasons politicians are claiming. Rather, the big story is how politicians spent three years making a terrible system even worse and claiming victory for it.

As SCPC Policy Analyst Dillon Jones put it, the so-called “restructuring” bill should be called “The Budget and Control Board Re-naming Act.” For all protracted legislative debating, what they ultimately passed would: 1) give the governor the authority to manage more government workers, 2) create at least three new state agencies, 3) create more oversight power for legislative leaders, 4) give the Legislature authority to place under oath anyone appearing before a committee AND make it illegal to speak an untruth to the committee (apparently still legal for legislators on the committee to lie to the citizens who elect them), and 5) leave the real power exactly where it is today – in the hands of the same five people on a new board with a new name.

Nothing of substance has changed.

It seemed as if there was finally momentum to rid the state of the BCB, a board that allowed everyone to pass the political buck by diffusing power that should belong solely to the governor or to the Legislature among five members (governor, state treasurer, state comptroller general, Senate Finance Committee chairman and House Ways and Means Committee chairman). SCPC’s proposal made it simple: Eliminate the BCB and move its functions to either the executive branch or the Legislature. There should be no “hybrid” boards – the separation of powers should be clear, and so should the chain of accountability.

This bill started out weak with the Senate version, which created the Department of Administration but did not eliminate the Budget and Control Board.  It went from bad to worse as the bill went back and forth between the two chambers. The new BCB is called the State Fiscal Accountability Authority (SFAA), and has the exact same members as the BCB – along with all the real power, including managing the contract process (over which legislators should have no authority, given that they pass the laws creating the need for the contract) and the authority to indebt taxpayers through bonds. This system of managing government has always favored insider politicians because there are five people to hold accountable for poor policy decisions – two of whom are not elected statewide – instead of just the governor (as is the case in the other 49 states).

By the same token, the Legislature avoided responsibility that could become politically messy, such as having to vote up/down on every project for which they borrow money instead of authorizing broad authority then leaving the “pesky details” of exactly what we do with the money to the SFAA. The Legislature also refused to do its job to enact mid-year budget cuts, transferring that power from the BCB – which routinely issues across-board cuts instead of actually reviewing every program to see which ones are more essential (i.e., cutting school budgets at the same rate as tourism advertising) – into the hands of the Office of Executive Budget.

In short, the General Assembly shuffled around state employees, created several new agencies and gave themselves just a bit more power. Progress? Not even close! This is yet another line in the sand for citizens vs. their elected officials. Politicians are hopeful that citizens will congratulate them for “fixing” our corrupt government structure. We shouldn’t – because they didn’t.

What our politicians have actually done is guarantee the public will have even less trust in them than most already do. That’s an accomplishment of some sort, though hardly one to brag about.

Ashley Landess