South Carolina Budget Board's Days May Be Numbered

In making her case for eliminating South Carolina's Budget and Control Board in her state of the state speech earlier this month, Governor Nikki Haley included a blast from the past. "For at least 62 years, governors have stood at this podium appealing to the General Assembly for an efficient government, accountable to the people," Haley quoted former Governor Carroll Campbell as saying in 1992. "Eight studies spanning 70 years echoed this call, yet much of government answers to no one."

Twenty years later, Haley's point was that not much has changed. In South Carolina, governors aren't really in charge of the state's budget office, procurement office, personnel office or information technology office. Instead, those functions and others are all part of the Budget and Control Board, an independent super-agency. What's different this time is that there are signs that Haley may succeed where others have failed. Haley's proposal is to create a Department of Administration under the governor's command to take over many of the Budget and Control Board's functions.

The Budget and Control Board is managed by a five-member committee including the governor, the treasurer, the comptroller general, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. What that means is that, unless governors have friends elsewhere in state government, they struggle to exert power over key parts of the state bureaucracy. Mark Sanford, Haley's predecessor, was frequently outvoted on the Board. "You have five people who are in charge of all these central administrative functions of government. Two of them are state legislators who really shouldn't have any involvement in running a state agency," says Cindi Ross Scoppe, an associate editor of The State newspaper and longtime advocate for restructuring South Carolina's government. "It's a real separation of powers issue."

In previous years, legislators have balked not only at loosing so much power, but also at giving more power to governors, some of whom they had clashed with, such as Sanford. While Haley and legislators were at odds at times during her first year in office, Scoppe says the dynamics may be different than in past years. For one, Senator Vincent Sheheen, the Democrat whom Haley narrowly defeated in the 2010 governor's race, is championing the measure in the Senate. Plus, Scoppe says, some legislators seem tired of hearing about the topic for so long and are ready to pass a bill and move on. 

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