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Restructuring proposal threatens checks and balances
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report



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APRIL 20, 2003 - - Gov. Mark Sanford's new government restructuring plan is the biggest proposed executive power grab in the state's history.

Sanford says the plan, which would consolidate executive authority over state agencies and make several key elected offices become gubernatorial appointments, will make government more accountable and efficient.

But what it really would do is make state government become more partisan and bureaucratic, and less responsive and accountable. It is riddled with problems:

Constitutional officers. It seems incomprehensible how taking away the people's right to vote on an elected official makes that officeholder more accountable. If the state treasurer or comptroller general, for example, is doing a bad job, the people can throw him or her out of office at the next election.

Sanford's proposal calls for the elimination by popular election of the secretary of state, treasurer, comptroller general, superintendent of education and agriculture commissioner. It keeps the attorney general and adjutant general as elected offices. Additionally, it calls for the lieutenant governor's position to become a full-time job, to run on the governor's ticket instead of separately, and to lose the power of presiding over the state Senate.

Checks and balances. Not only does the Sanford plan call for taking away the election of the treasurer and comptroller general, but it calls for them to be removed from the state Budget and Control Board, the executive authority of the state.

The proposal creates a new Department of Administration in which many of the functions of the current Budget and Control Board would be relocated. The director would be appointed by the governor. This move mostly seems like putting new icing on the same cake because it changes the name and lines of authority of many current functions, but doesn't fundamentally change the functions.

What's worrying is our state constitution now calls for much of the executive authority of the state to be with the Budget and Control Board, made up by the governor, treasurer, comptroller general, chair of the House Ways and Means and the chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

By removing two independently-elected financial officers from the budget board, the governor's plan would tremendously erode vital checks and balances that ensure the state's finances are handled properly. In its place would be a much more political authority - - a body that one Republican analyst observed would be "ripe for political corruption."

Adjutant general. There may be a legitimate argument to make the agriculture commissioner become an appointed office. But if so, it makes just as much sense to make the adjutant general - - the head of the state's National Guard - - to be appointed too. South Carolina is the only state in the nation that elects its adjutant general. Sanford says he doesn't want to subject the office to a political debate now because of the war in Iraq.

If not now, when? It's been a decade since there's been any restructuring. Around Columbia, folks say some lawmakers are worried that if the adjutant general becomes an appointed office, then members of the National Guard will kowtow to the political wishes of the governor and could serve as an incumbent governor's unofficial fund-raising squad.

What will the lieutenant governor do? Currently, our part-time lieutenant governor presides over the Senate. If the Sanford proposal is approved, he would become a full-time state employee with no real job description.

There's merit in having the governor and lieutenant governor run as a team because if a governor died in office, they'd know the lieutenant governor had similar values. It also avoids the sticky situation of a mid-administration shift in party control if the two top officers weren't in the same party.

It's interesting the restructuring proposal comes late in the legislative session. What that means is it's unlikely to pass this year, but supporters and opponents will have time in the summer and fall to muster votes for their versions of restructuring.

In short, Sanford's plan is an opening salvo to what may be a defining issue of next year's legislative session. As it is, the proposal needs a lot of work to ensure voters really do have accountability, and valuable checks and balances aren't destroyed.


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