What a difference ‘government restructuring’ hasn’t made

December 15, 2016

Inside Insight

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Haley Signing Bill

In early 2014, Governor Nikki Haley signed into law a bill that was supposed to reform state government, by creating the Department of Administration and moving the Budget and Control Board’s functions under the governor’s control. Two years on, The Nerve took a look to see what had actually been accomplished. Three years on, the conclusion is just the same:

The bill was widely hailed as a historic, and the governor signed it with much fanfare. Yet somehow it has been almost completely forgotten.

Why? Perhaps because the bill changed so little.

It was supposed, of course, to transfer the many executive functions long performed by the legislature back to the executive branch, thus restoring the separation of powers in South Carolina state government. That, and not the reshuffling of agency maintenance, has long been the aim of supporters of government restructuring in South Carolina. Yet, with the South Carolina Restructuring Act of 2014 now law, the legislature still runs the show with few checks and little accountability. The legislature still dominates the apparatus of state government through a dizzying array of boards and commissions. Legislative leaders, acting through the renamed Budget and Control Board (now the State Fiscal Accountability Authority), still control the lion’s share of procurement – the purchasing of goods and services by state government, properly belonging to the executive branch. Thus powerful lawmakers can still push state contracts to their friends and supporters, and the public still has no real way of stopping it or even finding out about it.

Not only did the bill change very little. It actually made a few things worse. The new law gave the legislature new powers to oversee state agencies, including executive agencies: the House and Senate must conduct “oversight studies and investigations on all agencies within the standing committee’s subject matter jurisdiction at least once every seven years.” Unsure how such studies and investigations should be done, lawmakers – naturally – appropriated more money for new staffers to do the work for them.

Even worse, perhaps, the bill created a new felony. As Jamie Murguia explained when the bill passed, “The General Assembly will now have the power to subpoena citizens to appear before either chamber of the legislature or any committee. Any person who either ignores the subpoena or gives false or incomplete testimony will be guilty of criminal contempt of the General Assembly. Anyone who refuses to be sworn in, refuses to answer any question, or refuses to produce requested documents will likewise be guilty of criminal contempt of the General Assembly. Any person convicted under this new law will be guilty of a felony and must either be fined or sentenced to up to five years in prison.”

It’s true that the new Department of Administration now administers 17 state agencies previously under the Budget and Control Board. The new agency has some procurement responsibilities, and it will oversee parking services.

But this was never the historic change touted by Gov. Haley and lawmakers. The bill was supposed to separate powers, not merely the workaday administration of agencies. It was supposed to end – or at least change – the legislature’s longstanding dominance of state government. It was supposed to put accountability for executive government functions squarely under the governor. It didn’t.

Which is why you haven’t heard anything about it since January of 2014.