S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, July 22, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0722.gear.htm


GEAR report offers some interesting ideas
By Andy Brack, Publisher

JULY 22, 2007 - - A new report that says the state can generate hundreds of millions of dollars of savings and cash over three years at the state Budget and Control Board elicits a mixed response.

On one hand, the 97-page report with 61 recommendations seems to include some practical good government ideas to make the state's administrative agency run smoother. But on the other hand, because many of its authors are cronies of Gov. Mark Sanford, one wonders whether the report is just a new way to further ideological debate about cutting government, one of the governor's passions.

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"I can't stress to you enough how much this was not a partisan deal," said Chad Walldorf, who chaired the Government Efficiency and Accountability Review and once served as Sanford's budget chief. "It was about good government - and making it run better."

The only identifiable Democrat on the nine-person panel was a South Carolina newcomer, Mike Langrehr, who admits he didn't vote for Sanford and joined the group to help the state improve Board operations.

"They need to do something about accountability," said Langrehr, who retired to Aiken after serving as the chief information officer for the state of Maryland.

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As the report rightly points out, there's not really a Democratic or Republican way to pave roads or run an office. So assuming the report is offered in an apolitical spirit, here are some of its good ideas:

  • State fleet management: Buy state cars at more competitive prices, instead of awarding bids at the beginning of the model year when they're the most expensive. Potential savings: $2 million a year.

  • Fees: The agency should lower administrative fees that it charges other agencies. Potential savings: $500,000 a year.

  • Restructure information technology: There are 13 recommendations about the state's information technology central office, which the report describes as unaccountable and dysfunctional, particularly to other agencies. As the report indicates, a total review of the function of the office would be wise to ensure the state was keeping up with technology trends and being smart about how it manages information.

  • Forecasting: The report suggests the Board of Economic Advisers should have access to state Department of Revenue data to make estimates and should provide an annual report on its forecasting performance.

  • Health plan: It suggests transferring $136 million in surplus health funds to a trust fund for retiree care. It also says state employees should use more generic drugs, which could save $16 million a year.

While many of the ideas in the GEAR report may be good, state officials should probably be careful to review each measure to ensure against unintended consequences. One of the problems with the report appears to be some "squishy" numbers. Because the authors sometimes don't outline the economic assumptions in the report, it is hard to figure out whether the assumptions are correct, which could impact the "savings."

State officials also should be cautious with one overriding theme in the latter part of the report: cutting state employee benefits. While benefits certainly are increasing the cost of state government, cutting benefits to state employees who already tend to be paid too little will discourage good people from entering government service. Whether increasing the length of service to qualify for retirement health care or increasing the years of service before a state pension kicks in, state lawmakers need to be careful about fiddling with benefits.

All in all despite some Sanfordian ideological overtones, the GEAR report appears to be what authors claim - a good-faith attempt to help the Board improve its service. On its face, that makes it something lawmakers shouldn't dismiss out of hand.

You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of SC Statehouse Report, at brack@statehousereport.com.

Recent commentary


Cainhoy Riot of 1876 undercut state government

The Cainhoy Riot (Oct. 16, 1876) was one of the many deadly frays that erupted during the 1876 gubernatorial campaign. As with other outbreaks of violence in 1876, it involved white gun clubs and the African American militia, but Cainhoy ended with a difference: when it was over, more whites lay dead than blacks.


You can learn more about this topic in Zuczek's book, State of Rebellion.

African Americans came prepared to a Republican political meeting and hundreds of militiamen attended the meeting, though for reasons that remain a mystery, they stored their guns in nearby buildings. They became agitated when Charleston County Democratic gun clubs began to arrive by steamer from the city. Democrats demanded "equal time" to speak, a scuffle ensued, and shots rang out. Soon the African Americans were breaking out their rifles, while the outnumbered whites sent the steamer back to Charleston for reinforcements. They arrived to find the battle over, the combatants dispersed, and seven dead men - - six whites and one African American.

WEEKLY EXCERPTS

S.C. Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with an interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Each excerpt, which is used with permission and not for republication, is taken from The South Carolina Encyclopedia, a 1,077-page book published in 2006 with entries by almost 600 contributors and edited by noted historian Walter Edgar. We hope you enjoy this new feature.

The affair at Cainhoy finally prompted federal action. On Oct. 17, President Ulysses S. Grant issued a proclamation ordering all private armed organizations to disband and ordered more US troops into the state. Soldiers were only a temporary, piecemeal fix and could not quell all disturbances or protect all Republicans. In the end, even this small victory undercut the legitimacy of the Republican-controlled state government.

-- Entry by Richard Zuczek, The South Carolina Encyclopedia

lighter side
CSI for kids

Another great cartoon by Bill McLemore:

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7/18: Robbing Peter to pay Paul

To Statehouse Report:

This letter is in support of Senator David Thomas's willingness to take on the payday loan businesses. [See Commentary, 3/11] For almost four years I have been in denial of the fact that I could not manage my financial affairs.

I had a checking account; my daughter was on the account so that she could go to the bank for me. She had a separate account at the same bank, and account was overdrawn. They took her overdrafts fees out of my account. I didn't know it until I went to bank the first of the month. The amount was $1,200.00. I am on a fixed income and I could not pay my living expenses for the month, so I went to the payday loans. I went to three payday stores, rewriting on a $600.00 cash advance paying $90.00 at each store every month, which was totaling $270.00 a month.

As you already know, you go from one payday loan store to the other to pay each one. They call each other to see how much you owe the other one and then they look at your income and decide how much you can receive from them. They just want to know that you have enough to pay the fee and re-borrow. That's what keeps you going back to them. You go to another payday store get a payday loan to pay them and have money for your living expenses. When you try to stop the check from being deposited, by calling the payday loan store, telling them you will not have the money in the bank and could I make arrangements to pay them, they still deposit your check. Then you have bank overdrafts; this month I had $179.00 in bank overdrafts.

I was robbing Peter to pay Paul, not realizing that I was stealing from myself, and digging myself into a hole. It has been a nightmare.

-- Marsha Bibb-Goggans Johnson, North Charleston, SC

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Ports Authority has good year
From the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

JULY 20, 2007 -- With the state budget swelling to a record-setting $7.5 billion this year, it's not surprising so few noticed that the State Ports Authority's "ship came in."

According to the SPA's recently released 2006 annual report, the shipping branch of state government enjoyed a sharp uptick in earnings over expenses in the last three years.

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AVAILABLE NOW: Furman University's Don Gordon has great things to say about Andy Brack's new book of commentaries, "Bugging the Palmettos." Click here to learn more and buy the book -- only $15.00!

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Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. No republication is allowed.