MY LAST NERVE: Our Time-Wasting Legislature

April 10, 2015

Inside Insight

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time-wasting legislature

IF YOU WASTED THIS MUCH TIME AT YOUR JOB . . .

I’m torn between frustration and relief that the legislature has not gotten much “accomplished” this year. The state is rife with corruption at almost all levels of government, and our legislature has yet to reform the system that allows this activity to occur. On the one hand I’m relieved that they’ve yet to pass a bill that pretends to reform the system, but actually preserves it – and in some cases makes it worse. On the other hand, the most powerful politician in the state was forced from his leadership position and plead guilty to six public corruption charges last year and our legislature can’t figure out a way to ensure the public’s trust isn’t violated in that way again? C’mon!

So, you might be wondering what our General Assembly has been up to the eleven weeks they’ve been meeting in Columbia (other than finding ways to raise your taxes). What have they accomplished that the House was justified in taking a two week vacation, and the Senate one week?

Well, you’ll be excited to know that between the House and Senate there have been at least 24 bills introduced that would require the Department of Transportation to rename portions of roads, interchanges, or bridges after a variety of well thought-of people. Each of these signs will come at a cost. Reimbursement for expenses incurred by the department, state law says, “must first be approved by a majority of each county legislative delegation of the county in which the road, bridge, or facility is located,” and must come from the “State Secondary ‘C’ Apportionment Fund” of the county. As The Nerve reported in 2014, this money comes out of a portion of the state gasoline tax that goes to counties for road projects. But wait: don’t we have a revenue problem?

Lawmakers have squeezed in time for resolutions honoring, to name just a few, Clemson Day, Girl Scout Day, Etiquette Day, and my personal favorites – “County Day.” If the honored county happens to be a county from which a powerful lawmaker comes – say, Lexington County, home of Sen. Nikki Setzler – you can bet the chamber will adjourn early to ensure the delegation gets to its reception on time. So yes: our lawmakers have a fine sense of priorities and time management.

They’ve authored more than 200 resolutions that congratulate, celebrate, and honor just about every school sports team you can think of, and celebrated their constituents’ and/or staff’s retirement, birthday, or anniversary. I’m sure this sort of thing is very “feel-good” for the recipients – and I don’t blame them – but I can’t think of a way that lawmakers waste more time than when they parade a flock of pageant queens or championship volleyball or football or soccer or tennis players onto the floor and read a resolution honoring them to the entire chamber.

Sure, lawmakers are proud of their constituents and want to reward them for their achievements. (And if honoring constituents happens to perform the same function as political campaigning, so much the better, right?) But I’d prefer they do that on their own time and not waste the time they’re given by taxpayers to accomplish state business. Maybe then they might have the time to take up a bill that would shorten the amount of time they’re actually in session and provide them with more time back in their districts with their constituents.

Jamie Murguia is Director of Research at the South Carolina Policy Council, The Nerve’s parent organization.