DOA: Department of Administrative Drama?

By Corey Hutchins
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
South Carolina’s Budget and Control Board is a massive hybrid commission that deals with much of the day-to-day business of state government. It is controlled by a five-member board made up of the governor, the state treasurer, the comptroller general and two top legislative leaders, all of them Republicans.

When Nikki Haley was running for governor, she campaigned on vaporizing the sprawling bureaucratic board, but she has taken a tamer approach to it since being elected —something more like smashing it into pieces and scattering them about. It comes in the form of legislation that would create a cabinet-level Department of Administration (DOA) to handle much of the board’s duties.

It’s a bill that has been a lightning rod for drama from its start.

Last June, when the Legislature went on break, Haley attempted to call lawmakers back into a special session to deal with government restructuring, including the DOA bill. Then-Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, a Charleston Republican, sued Haley for constitutional overreach, and the State Supreme Court quickly sided with him.

Once back in regular session, the House passed a version of the bill and sent it to the Senate, which amended it and passed its own version.

That was eight weeks ago — but the drama continues.

House leaders are fighting with Senate leaders over what exactly the legislation does or doesn’t do — or if it’s really complete. One House aide said it appeared the Senate version left the state’s procurement department with no authority. The whole point of the bill, others thought, was to abolish the Budget and Control Board. And while the Senate bill does dissolve many of the board’s authority and decision-making powers, it also creates several different agencies and boards.

Responding to that, tea party leaders from around the state last month gathered in front of Haley’s office at the State House and raked her over the coals for not completely obliterating the state budget board as they’d been expecting.

“We’re not in it for compromise,” said Talbert Black, a tea party leader who was once one of Haley’s stronger supporters but has since soured on the governor. “We don’t want to get rid of the Budget and Control Board just to check off a box … we want to get rid of the Budget and Control Board because we want separation of powers, because we want accountability, because we want transparency.”

The drama has elevated above grassroots clamoring.

Last week, two top Republicans in state government put the Senate’s DOA bill in their crosshairs: State Treasurer Curtis Loftis and House Speaker Bobby Harrell. The two issued a joint news release while the House was on furlough.

They argued that the way senators amended the DOA bill to handle the state’s pension fund and long-term debt management would put the state’s coveted AAA credit rating at risk. The Palmetto State is one of only 15 with a triple-A rating.

Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler immediately responded, firing off a blistering
news release along with Pickens Republican Sen. Larry Martin.

“It is disappointing that the House and treasurer finally spoke up two months after we passed this bill,” Peeler said. “Using scare tactics to keep a failed status quo system is unacceptable, especially after supporting the elimination of the Budget and Control Board. I urge the House to support the more conservative version of this bill.”

Martin couched the debate as a contest between who is more conservative.

“The House holds itself out to be a conservative body, so it’s really disappointing that it is supporting the failed status quo, and a decidedly less conservative version of this bill,” Martin said. “Conservative activists across South Carolina have been clear that they want the Budget and Control Board eliminated. I strongly encourage the House to seize this opportunity for historic reform of state government.”

Lawmakers have passed the DOA bill three times. It is the largest piece of government restructuring legislation in some time.

The House will brief its caucus on the bill to discuss any proposed changes they might have. If both bodies can’t come to an agreement, the legislation could die.

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