Dept. of Administration Bill Gets Worse


[UPDATE: Late yesterday the full Senate passed S.22 by a vote of 35 to 10. The version passed by the Senate did not differ substantially from the bill as amended by the Senate Finance Committee, discussed here.]

Several weeks ago, Senator Shane Massey remarked on the Senate floor that he did not want to see the Department of Administration bill – S.22 – sent to the Senate Finance Committee. The legislation had already been through the Judiciary Committee, and without exactly saying it Sen. Massy seemed to suggest that the motive for re-committing the bill to Finance was to kill it.

Or gut it.

The Judiciary had correctly moved procurement authority – the power to contract with private companies for goods and services – under the Department of Administration, an executive agency created by the legislation. The reason for that chance was a sound one: The power to use government resources to buy goods and services from the private sector requires clear accountability lines. To put it more plainly: It’s much harder for a single, prominent chief executive to get away with abusing procurement powers – giving contracts to political allies, say, or to campaign donors or family members – than it would be for a practically anonymous ex-officio board to do so.

And yet the Senate Finance Committee put procurement right back under an ex-officio board: in this case, the board of the newly created State Fiscal Accountability Authority (SFAA). Indeed, under S.22 in its present form, that agency’s board is made up of the very same people who now make up the Budget and Control Board: the governor, the treasurer, the comptroller general, and the chairmen of Senate Finance and House Ways and Means.

The power to negotiate state contracts, then, will not be touched by the bill in its present form.

Senate Finance has also moved the power to “recognize” deficits under $1 million – that is, the power to allow state agencies to spend more than they’re appropriated – to the newly created Executive Budget Office. As the name implies, that is an executive agency – yet deficit recognition involves new appropriations and so should be a legislative function, not an executive one.

The legislature, then, continues to get restructuring exactly backwards. Executive powers are being moved into or partially into the legislative branch, and legislative powers – especially those involving potentially controversial or unpopular decisions like deficit recognitions – are being moved gladly into the executive branch.

Recall the mostly ignored law requiring South Carolina schools to teach the U.S. Constitution and The Federalist Papers – perhaps now we begin to see the reason for that law, and the consequences of ignoring it.

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