Governor Nikki Haley met with South Carolina House and Senate leaders Wednesday morning as the two legislative chambers continue to argue about a government restructuring bill that has stalled in the House since passing the Senate nearly two months ago.
Haley’s spokesman Rob Godfrey said the meeting was “productive,” but would not add any other details.
After nearly seven weeks of silence on the issue, House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s office released a statement last week saying he was concerned about the Senate version of the bill that breaks up the massive Budget & Control Board. Harrell was one of the legislative leaders who attended Wednesday’s meeting.
When it passed the House in March 2011, H.3066 created a new Cabinet-level Department of Administration to oversee much of the state’s bureaucracy. It kept the Board intact to handle budgetary issues. However, a late push by a bipartisan group of Senators was able to get an amendment last June that would eliminate the board completely. The Senate finally passed the significantly-altered bill in early February, sending it back to the House.
On Tuesday, Harrell again went public with criticism of the Senate version, saying it would create eight entirely new agencies and expand two others that already exist.
“They will have eight separate sections in the budget,” Harrell told South Carolina Radio Network, “They’ll all… ask for their own budget line items, lease space, and their own leadership.”
However, Senators have fired back.
“That’s a little bit on the line of political theatrics,” Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens), the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, said, “We didn’t create ten new agencies.”
Some of the “new” agencies– such as the Confederate Relic Room, Rural Infrastructure Authority, and the Board of Economic Advisors– already exist in the large, complicated tapestry that is the Budget and Control Board.
However, Harrell said the bill also created new independent boards to handle procurement and employee benefits, which he says should fall under the governor’s control. The Senate version also puts the power to approve revenue bonds into a five-member Bond Review Authority– which conservative groups like the SC Policy Council insist is the Budget and Control Board by another name.
Martin said the independent boards were created to ease some senators’ (notably Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman’s) concerns about giving a single branch control of the state’s borrowing power.
Other senators criticized the House for sitting on the bill nearly two months. Sen. Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) — clearly annoyed after Harrell’s comments Tuesday– tweeted “just fix the bill! You’ve had it 2 months. Quit whining & fix it! We r on the same team, for crying out loud.”
Harrell said the House was working on the budget and pension reform and needed time to read the 100 pages of changes that the Senate made.
The Speaker said he hopes the House will be able to take up the bill next week.