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Department of Administration

The South Carolina House has worked for five years, and with two governors, to create a Department of Administration and reform the executive branch. Last month, the South Carolina Senate approved a dense, 100-page “Department of Administration” bill that replaces one agency with a new one every 10 pages.

Now, it is no secret that the House and the Senate frequently spar over legislation. In this case, the question is whether the medicine is worse than the sickness. We are extremely pleased the Senate tried to eliminate the Budget and Control Board. We are not pleased that the elimination wasn’t complete and the Senate split it into 10 different government agencies.

That is not reform. That is growing government. There is no way to spin it otherwise.

Here are the facts. The House has approved Department of Administration legislation three times in the past four years. This is the first time the Senate has approved it. The Senate amended our legislation with a 99-page amendment that was still being written the weekend after the Senate approved it. The Senate’s legislation creates a new Budget and Control Board, and leaves the existing one intact.

It has taken the House a month to unpack the massive amendment, and what we found was a new RINO: Restructuring In Name Only.

The Budget and Control Board still exists under the Senate’s plan. Not only that, but there is a new “bond review” board that consists of the Governor, the Comptroller General, the Treasurer, a Senator and a House member. Or, put another way, pretty much the same people who currently drive the Budget and Control Board.

The national credit rating agencies recently reaffirmed our state’s AAA credit rating – something the Obama Administration can’t boast – but those same agencies warned that if the Senate version goes through, that rating could be in jeopardy.

In addition to the fiscal integrity issues, the Senate’s 10-agency plan contains other accountability oversights and gaps.  The Senate created the Procurement Oversight Board, assigned it board members and departments to oversee, but failed to give the agency any authority to run itself or execute actions. That leaves decision making authority back with the old Budget and Control Board, which was never officially eliminated in the Senate’s bill.

House Republicans are working to re-craft the legislation to put at least 85 percent of the old Budget and Control Board into the Department of Administration and truly dissolving the rest of the old board. We want to give the Governor true authority over the executive administration of our state. We will promote efficiency by reducing the number of agencies, maximizing the scope of the Department of Administration, and eliminating the Budget and Control Board.

One nugget tucked away in the Senate’s plan is moving the agency that provides independent fiscal impact statements on legislation under the control of the General Assembly. If that’s not the fox guarding the henhouse, I’m not sure what is. The House’s version will ensure independence for the Bureau of Economic Advisors, strengthen the Inspector General and State Auditor’s offices, and safeguard our AAA credit rating.

As Governor Haley pointed out to House Members in a meeting last month, the Senate’s 10 government agency version of DOA reform has major flaws. By creating so many new and overlapping agencies, government will become less accountable and less efficient – something that is hard to imagine. I believe that the House can truly eliminate the Budget and Control Board, and do so in a way that provides real accountability and doesn’t create 10 government agencies.

At the same time, there are several functions of government that should not be influenced by the political whims of one person. For example: Putting everything into the hands of the governor would allow that person to single-handedly make sweeping changes to state health care coverage (such as expanding coverage for abortions) or making unilateral changes to the state’s retirement system.

Like any other major government reform, this will take time to achieve. The House has been working at this for four years. We’re pleased the Senate tried to eliminate the Budget and Control Board – a reform we never thought would actually pass the Senate – but we simply cannot put a rubber stamp on legislation that grows government as swiftly as this current bill.