Restructuring “in name only?” Lawmakers approve Department of Administration bill
Lawmakers spearheading a decade-long push to restructure state government, Gov. Carroll Campbell-style, were victorious Tuesday. But the restructuring legislation, known as the Department of Administration bill, first met resistance from a few senators who called bicameral compromise on the bill restructuring “in name only.”
Sen. Shane Martin, R-Pauline, delayed the bill to no avail. Fated to pass, the final Senate vote was 39-4. Martin characterized the compromise as “putting lipstick on a pig” and “the Budget and Control Board lite” because of the way it left in tact the basic structure of the board. A conference report on the bill renamed the five-member board the State Fiscal Accountability Authority and left some of the board’s current functions there, such as procurement and bonding.
The bill also created a cabinet-level Department of Administration, which takes over several of the board’s functions, such as human resources and information technology. Also included is a provision to allow only the General Assembly to recognize agency deficits.
Gov. Haley: “The state of our state is strong.”
Gov. Nikki Haley praised the General Assembly’s passage of the restructuring bill in her State of the State address on Wednesday. She called the late Gov. Carroll Campbell the father of restructuring in S.C., saying he was smiling down on the state.
The bill’s passage was a victory for Haley, who has championed the legislation during her term as governor. She praised several lawmakers for moving the bill, including Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, who was the bill’s primary sponsor. Sheheen is Haley’s challenger for the 2014 gubernatorial election.
Haley touched on several other agenda items Wednesday including a proposed 20 percent increase in state dollars to educate the state’s poorest students—a topic she spent a large part of her speech on, a call for a strong ethics reform bill that calls for income disclosure among lawmakers, and plan for improving roadways using what she called a $106 million “money tree” that falls each year once the budget is balanced. Democrats responded by saying money doesn’t grow on trees and by criticizing Haley for failing to come up with a better plan than using surpluses that haven’t arrived yet. Haley has vowed to veto any proposal to raise the gas tax.
The state of Haley’s jobs record is also strong. Her administration has announced 45,000 new jobs. She rattled off a list of some of the largest jobs announcements over the past few years.
About 70,000 more South Carolinians have been put back to work during her tenure. Great, right? Yes, great for the 70,000 back in the workforce. But not great for those who have dropped out of the workforce altogether. The unemployed drop off the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ rolls after they stop looking for work. It is a great day in South Carolina—for some of us.
Rejecting federal health care exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid also appeared on Haley’s accomplishments list. She characterized Medicaid as cannibalizing the budget. Her remarks were timely. A bill to invalidate the federal Affordable Care Act in S.C. is set for Special Order in the Senate—the Senate is rumored to be taking the bill up next week.
Senate Finance subcommittee probing into squabble over $427 million in fees for state retirement system
State Treasurer Curtis Loftis wants to call attention to the return on investment for the $427 million in fees the state Retirement System Investment Commission pays. Returns on the $27 billion pension plan are among the lowest 20 percent in the nation, he told senators in January. But several heads of associations representing state workers and retirees say there’s another side to the story. Lawmakers are trying to get to the bottom of it.
A special Senate Finance subcommittee heard from both parties in January as part of a short series of hearings designed to inform lawmakers as they focus on how the investments should be audited and on how the fees are calculated.
In early January The Island Packet reported that Loftis told supporters the commission’s work “lacked a moral core.” Several representatives of state retirees objected to this characterization at a hearing senators held Thursday. They praised the commission’s conservative investment approach in lieu of aggressive investments aimed at higher returns. Executive Director of the S.C. Sheriff’s Association, Jeff Moore said people didn’t know who to believe and said he thought the truth was probably somewhere in the middle. He urged greater oversight by the General Assembly. “Please find a way to put this constant conflict between the commission and the treasurer’s office to bed,” he said.
Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said he wished Moore and others could scream that message from the mountaintops.
Lourie said the subcommittee will hear from Loftis again before producing an interim summary.