The South Carolina House has rejected the Senate’s version of a bill that would significantly change how South Carolina’s government is structured.
Instead House leaders passed a version that would break up the Budget & Control Board– a part-legislative, part-executive agency that runs most of the state’s bureaucracy– into three new agencies. It would also eliminate roughly 10 percent of the Board’s current positions.
H. 3066 is a bill that has been overhauled three different times since it first passed the House in March 2011. That version was much less ambitious in scope and was meant to create a Cabinet-level Department of Administration. Senators re-arranged the bill in committee before a bipartisan group of Democrats and more conservative “back-bench” Republicans was able to add a late amendment that abolishes the Budget & Control Board. After six weeks of debate, the Senate passed a compromise version of the bill earlier this year.
House leaders publicly criticized that version, which split the board into seven or eight new autonomous agencies (the number depends on whose definition is used). House Republicans instead crafted their own proposal which would create only three new agencies– the Department of Administration, State Contracts & Accountability Authority, and Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Office.
Rep. Kenny Bingham (R-Cayce) said the proposal would also eliminate 147 full-time positions that are currently vacant. “It is very much a broad oversweep of government reform,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “All of the same functions that were performed by the old Budget & Control Board are still going to be performed.”
The changes passed 71-33 Wednesday, mostly along party lines. Democrats led by Minority Leader Harry Ott (D-St. Matthews) questioned parts of the plan, such as putting the state’s retirement system underneath a new commission and giving a large amount of purchasing power to a single person in the Department of Administration.
“I don’t believe there’s hardly anybody, maybe one or two, that have any clue what we’re getting ready to vote on,” Ott said from the House floor, “And I know that there are going to be a lot of unintended consequences when this becomes law.”
Overall, House leaders say the bill would put 80 percent of the Budget & Control Board’s employees under the governor’s control in the Department of Administration.
The bill now heads back to the Senate, which is not expected to agree with the House amendments. That means it is likely headed to a conference committee. Lawmakers say they still hope to get a final version to Governor Nikki Haley (who has long considered it a top priority) before the session ends in June. But the realities of the situation– the Senate is likely to become bogged down in budget talks over the next month– mean whatever comes out of the conference could be taken up in the session’s final weeks.
Several lawmakers who asked not to be named put its chances of passing this year at “fifty-fifty.”