Taking the Power Back: Eight Reforms
HOW CAN WE MAKE SOUTH CAROLINA’S POLITICIANS THE
LEAST POWERFUL AND MOST ACCOUNTABLE IN THE NATION?
(1) Restore judicial independence.
The public deserves confidence that judges rule independently of the legislature whose laws they judge. South Carolina is the only state in the nation in which the legislature unilaterally appoints judges even when vacancies arise. The governor should nominate judges, with only advice and consent from the Senate.
(2) Make the governor fully accountable for the Executive Branch.
South Carolina lawmakers control the executive branch through a complicated web of boards and commissions, to which lawmakers appoint members to run state agencies instead of allowing the governor to run them. The legislature has further diluted the governor’s responsibility by doling out power to multiple constitutional officers (the Comptroller General, Treasurer, Agriculture Commissioner, Secretary of State, and so on), thus creating little executive fiefdoms that properly belong in the governor’s cabinet.
(3) Ensure a true citizen legislature by shortening session.
Our state has one of the nation’s longest legislative sessions: a system that favors career politicians over citizen-legislators, and empowers lobbyists and special interests over taxpayers. Legislative sessions should be limited to 90 calendar days or 45 legislative days, every other year, forcing lawmakers to limit their activity to citizen priorities.
(4) Open the state’s secret incentives process.
Corruption is virtually guaranteed when politicians have the power to strike secret deals with private companies using public money. Taxpayers deserve full transparency in all incentive deals – including public applications for subsidies, public debate on the merits of deals, and full reporting on investment “return.”
(5) End lawmakers’ ability to police themselves.
House and Senate members police their own ethics violations – and much of the process is kept private. Legislators should be governed by the same agency that governs other public officials, and details of hearings should be publicly reported.
(6) All South Carolina elected officials should report their income sources.
The public has no way to ensure that lawmakers don’t personally profit from legislation on which they vote. Members of Congress and elected officials in other states report their income – and so should South Carolina politicians.
(7) Strengthen the state’s open records law and abolish lawmakers’ exemption from it.
State agencies should organize their transactions and expenditures to be accessible to the public rather than charging taxpayers double for “labor” costs. And there’s certainly no justification for lawmakers exempting themselves from the state’s Freedom of Information law.
(8) Enforce the state law that mandates an open budget process.
The law requires the governor to write “the” budget and the legislature to hold “joint open hearings” to debate it. Compliance with that law would allow the public to engage in the budget process in real time. In addition, lawmakers should submit the budget in a simple format that is accessible to citizens online.