Throwback Thursday: South Carolina’s “Legislative State”

January 16, 2020

Inside Insight

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SC Statehouse

As the 2020 legislative session kicks off, it’s important to remember that the General Assembly doesn’t just control the legislative branch of government. Lawmakers also control many of the more important executive functions, and they select the judges who interpret the laws. This structure is often termed “the Legislative State,” though that is not a recognized form of government so much as a euphemism for “no balance of power.”

Some politicians tout past “reforms” that restructured elements of state government, but the fact remains that those reforms were incomplete at best, merely tweaking the system while preserving lawmakers’ control over some of the most essential elements.

For instance, the 2014 restructuring legislation eliminated the five-member Budget and Control Board (BCB) which oversaw state procurement, bonding, the state retirement system, etc. This conglomeration of legislative and executive functions effectively undermined the executive branch and shielded the most important functions of state government from accountability. However, the restructuring bill replaced the BCB with an identical five-member board comprised of the same individuals – the State Fiscal Accountability Authority (SFAA). Guess what that board oversees? State procurement, capital projects and bonding – the most important of the former BCB’s functions.

The report featured below (published by The Nerve’s parent organization, the South Carolina Policy Council) contains many such examples. One thing is clear: As long as lawmakers hold undue influence over the most important executive functions of government (such as public education, higher education, utilities, procurement and roads), and as long as they continue to elect the members of the judicial branch with no input from the governor, the “Legislative State” will be alive and well – and in desperate need of genuine reform.

The “Legislative State:” How the General Assembly Controls South Carolina’s Government