S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Sept. 17, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0917.board.htm

Soul of budget board on November ballot
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

SEPT. 17, 2006 - - A contest that's not on the ballot in November could change the face of the future of South Carolina.

At issue is the future control of the state Budget and Control Board, the odd umbrella state agency that serves as general manager of a lot of state government. No other state has such an entity, which is headed by a powerful five-member group -- the governor, state treasurer, comptroller general, Senate Finance chairman and House Ways and Means chairman.

In essence, the board is a special check on the relatively weak power of the South Carolina's executive branch because it provides state lawmakers with a tool to ensure the legislature's wishes are carried out.

Prior to the last three years, board members generally acted in concert in administering the state. Sure, there have been some contentious issues. But just as federal officials used to stop partisan bickering when it came to foreign policy, budget board members generally acted in harmony.

During the term of Gov. Mark Sanford, however, the budget board hasn't been all peaches and cream. There have been notable split votes on things like expanding college construction programs and providing funding to allow state agencies to defend themselves. In general, the fault line has been between executive and legislative control of the board, with Sanford and Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom voting in the minority, while the two legislative members and State Treasurer Grady Patterson upheld the more traditional, legislative-focused role of the board.

But in November, control of the board could shift to Sanford if a few things fall into place. Supporters say that would boost the power of the governor, which he needs to put his platform into place. Critics say it would increase gubernatorial meddling in day-to-day governance, something at which Sanford hasn't shown to be too adept. And they say if Sanford controls the board, it could cause college building programs to grind to a halt and affect how state employees are hired and fired.


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Two down-ballot elections are key to Sanford taking control:

State Treasurer. If GOP millionaire candidate Thomas Ravenel ousts Patterson, who has 36 years of experience, Ravenel may be more likely to side with Sanford on key budget board issues. And that could be important because if Eckstrom also won re-election, then the legislative members of the board (Senate Finance Chair Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence and House Ways and Means Chair Dan Cooper, R-Anderson) would be in a minority.

Comptroller General. But Eckstrom, the Republican who knocked off Patterson as treasurer in the 1990s and then got beaten by Patterson the following election, faces a tougher than expected reelection to his current job as comptroller general.

Despite being elected to two different statewide offices, Eckstrom still isn't that well known across the state. Compare that to his Democratic opponent, Drew Theodore of Columbia, whose last name instantly gives him credibility and a leg up in South Carolina politics. His father, Nick Theodore of Greenville, served for years as lieutenant governor and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994.

Eckstrom eeked out a coattails win in 2002 against James Lander. Today, Theodore has a slight fund-raising edge - and no debt. So if Drew Theodore can use family connections to slice into the GOP base in his native Upstate, he may be able to beat Eckstrom, which likely would keep control of the budget board from Sanford - - even if Ravenel beats Patterson.

Perhaps the biggest unknown is how voters will react in general in November. At this point, nobody really seems to care. If that stays the same, political consultants will tell you incumbents probably will stay in power, which would be good for Patterson and Eckstrom. But Patterson's age and Ravenel's constant media prodding could change things. Meanwhile, Eckstrom's checkered electoral history combined with Theodore's family connections could cause things to stay the same.

At this point in the election, it's all a bunch of political what ifs. But if the political stars line up right, control of the budget board could shift to the executive.

Based on the last four years of state governance, that could be scary.

Send your comments to Andy Brack at brack@statehousereport.com. His book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

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9/12: Frustrated with judicial system

To the editor:

I do believe that the civil judicial process genuinely makes every effort to ensure a fair and just outcome under heavy case load and difficult circumstances. (See Commentary, 9/10.)

However, my experience with the SC family court system will not allow me to fully share (yours) Chief Justice Jean Toal comments that they are the finest in America. As a plaintiff in a simple childless divorce case that entered the SC family court system in 1999, I became disillusioned by the process.

After seven costly emotionally-filled years, the matter remains needlessly unresolved to this day. Court orders were issued riddled with fundamental legal and judicial mistakes with little regard for fairness or cost containment. Frankly, I have never seen such degree of incompetence in any profession in my 55 years of life. It is and aloof adversarial contentious bureaucratic system designed around feeding the revenue opportunities of state attorneys

-- Terry Housley, Sumter County, SC

Recent feedback

Ahead on hydrogen

A look at how you often learn first about things in SC Statehouse Report:

From Statehouse Report, 2/5/06:

"More than 50 years of research at the Savannah River Site has generated piles of research and loads of scientists with expertise in using hydrogen, mostly radioactive tritium, for defense purposes. But with world's depleting petroleum supply that fuels an increasing thirst for energy, experts say the very thing being used and studied for years in South Carolina gives it a huge competitive advantage in the quest for future energy solutions."

From the Associated Press, 9/10/06

"Nearly every state has some sort of hydrogen initiative as they scramble to discover ways to cheaply and practically use the element as fuel. S.C. lawmakers and business leaders believe the Savannah River Site's work since the early 1950s gives an edge to a state typically thought of as backward rather than futuristic."

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