The House and Senate are back for the last nine weeks of session. Here is what has and hasn’t moved through the legislature so far.
Department of Administration
The bill to abolish the Budget and Control Board and replace it with a more accountable Department of Administration started out strong. After going through an unprecedented two committees it left the Senate a much weaker bill. The fight was about who should be over procurement. Senators touted the perfect record of procurement under its current home, the Budget and Control Board. However, there was a major failure in the procurement process that was discovered a few years ago. A multimillion dollar no-bid contract was uncovered that went to a company with ties to a former legislator. Once the contract was put out for bid taxpayers saved millions and no one was held accountable.
The Senate left procurement under the Budget and Control Board, just changing the name, and sent it to the House at the end of February. We hope the House will take up this bill and put procurement back under the Department of Administration where it should be.
Last year a Department of Administration bill fell a few votes short in the Senate on the last day. This year the legislature needs to pass a comprehensive bill that is not just restructuring in name only.
There are multiple bills in the House and Senate that deal with ethics reform. H. 3163, which was sent back to committee from the House floor, strengthens the Freedom of Information Act and removes the legislative exemption. Both of these changes would bring speed and sunlight to South Carolina which ranks towards the bottom when it comes to transparency.
Two other bills that we would like to come to the floor are S. 388 and H. 3772. While not perfect, these bills contain a framework for stronger legislation. Currently legislators do not fall under the same ethics governance as all other elected officials. This approach, which has the fox guarding the hen house, is one of the areas where we fall behind other states.
Elected officials should also be required to disclose both public and private income sources. We are one of only three states that does not require this. Again, South Carolina is one of the last states when it comes to transparency this is a great opportunity to show that we take good government seriously.
Superintendent of Education
Currently South Carolina has 9 constitutional officers, double the national average. S. 53 would give the governor the ability to appoint the Superintendent of Education. Both the current Republican Superintendent and a former Democrat Superintendent support this legislation.
The Department of Education is appropriated almost 40 percent of the state’s general funds yet the governor has no say in how the agency is run. Giving the governor the power to appoint the superintendent would increase accountability and be a step forward in improving education in South Carolina. This bill is currently sitting on the Senate calendar and is three votes away from passing. Please contact your Senator and encourage them to vote for this bill.
Roads and Bridges
One of the legislative priorities this year is roads and bridges. South Carolina’s citizens and business depend on infrastructure. There is $46 million in new recurring revenue and $117 million in onetime money that can be used to repair our roads and bridges. There are proposals to raise the gas tax but only 80% goes to renovating infrastructure.
The budget has passed the House and will go to the Senate floor soon. We hope that the Senate uses some of this $160+ million for roads and bridges instead of loading future generations up with debt.
All of the bills discussed above must crossover to the other chamber by May 1. If they are still sitting in the original body they will not be able to pass this year. These pieces of legislation cannot wait another year to pass. Please contact your legislators and ask them to vote on this legislation so we can move South Carolina’s government into the 21st Century.