The Best and Worst to Come: A Review of Restructuring Legislation for 2009-2010
As we review the best and worst restructuring legislation of 2009, it’s also time to begin to consider what ideas are likely to resurface during the 2010 session.
“Restructuring” generally refers to reforms designed to bring about a more equitable balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of state government. In South Carolina, the legislative branch has long held the reigns of power. And while there is no shortage of proposals to restructure state government, the legislative leadership has few incentives – short of a grassroots demand for change – to pass legislation that would dilute its power.
As documented in Unleashing Capitalism, the General Assembly’s power monopoly can be directly correlated with high levels of state spending, a lack of transparency, and a moribund economy. All this is to say that restructuring is not only essential to good government, but is also necessary to create wealth and increase prosperity. In particular, restructuring efforts should focus on fiscal decentralization and a constitutional spending limit that will reduce the size of government.
Best Ideas for 2010
1) Reduce the number of constitutionally elected offices: In many states, the governor selects his own cabinet. By contrast, South Carolina voters separately elect the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, superintendent of education, comptroller general, commissioner of agriculture, and adjutant general. Several bills still under consideration in 2010 propose amending the constitution to permit the governor to appoint these offices. Of particular note are: H 3231, which would permit the joint election of the governor and lieutenant governor (passed the House in 2009); H 3279, which would permit the governor to appoint the secretary of state (voted favorably out of the House Judiciary Committee); and H 3280, which would permit the governor to appoint the secretary of education (voted favorably out of the House Judiciary Committee).
Another proposal (S 899), introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell for 2010, likewise provides for the joint election of the governor and lt. governor – but at a price. The bill would make the Senate president pro tempore president of the Senate whereas the constitution currently gives that authority to the lieutenant governor. The bill also makes it easier to remove a sitting governor and replace him with the lieutenant governor.
2) Enact an effective spending cap: As tax revenue continues to decline and rainy day funds run dry, legislators are again talking about spending limits. Such a limit would provide a constitutional restraint on the legislature’s power to spend and tax. Doing so would accomplish at least some of the goals of restructuring while also preparing the way for long-term economic growth.
3) Streamline agencies and eliminate duplication: This may be the year the General Assembly creates (S 384) a cabinet-level secretary for the Department of Health & Environmental Control (DHEC). Doing so would enable the governor to exercise closer supervision over the agency. The House has also already passed two bills (H 3199 and H 3314) that would streamline DHEC functions even further. In addition, Senator McConnell has proposed legislation (S 897) that would create a commission to review all executive branch agencies, functions and services (excluding higher-ed) with the aim of eliminating, consolidating and privatizing such activities. When combined with an effective spending cap, such a commission could be a useful tool for making targeted budget cuts.
4) Shortening the legislative session and increasing transparency: In addition to streamlining executive agencies, the General Assembly should take a look at how the legislative branch can function more efficiently. To begin with, shortening the legislative session would force legislators to prioritize – and also save taxpayers money. (South Carolina has one of the longest sessions in the country.) Legislation (S 209) to shorten the session by one month, however, is still stuck in committee. Requiring roll call voting (cf. H 3047) would also bring more accountability to the General Assembly.
Worst Ideas for 2010
1) Co-opting executive appointments: In 2009, the General Assembly restricted the governor’s power over Ports Authority appointees. In 2010, legislators have their sites on the director of the Department of Insurance. H 4210 would eliminate the governor’s authority to appoint the director, making the position subject to popular election. S 339 would also limit the governor’s oversight over the transportation secretary.
2) Undermining gubernatorial authority: Two bills new for 2010 raise questions regarding the degree of oversight the legislature should exercise over the governor’s personal movements. S 901 would require that if the governor is temporarily absent for more than 12 hours the lieutenant governor would be granted full authority to act in very broadly defined emergencies. (The current law regarding interim emergency succession does not provide for a specific timeframe during which the governor must be “unavailable,” but 12 hours seems rather narrow.) What might be called a companion bill (S 900) to this proposal prohibits both the governor and lieutenant governor from declining the security services of the S.C. Law Enforcement Division.
To read more about restructuring legislation, click here.
Nothing in the foregoing should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder passage of any legislation. Copyright 2010.
South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation, 1323 Pendleton Street, Columbia, South Carolina 29201.