Vincent Sheheen’s plan to revamp state gummint

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State Sen. Vincent Sheheen came by to explain his government restructuring plan, which he wrote about recently in this op-ed piece.

The significance of Vincent’s initiative (and I call him "Vincent" on account of knowing his daddy and his uncle before I knew him) is that it constitutes a credible, worthwhile government restructuring approach from within the General Assembly, the place where governor’s plans generally go to die.

Over the years, I’ve generally just given the legislative side of restructuring a lick and a promise when I write about restructuring. In the Legislative State, lawmakers can already do pretty much anything they have a mind to do, whereas the executive has been kept purposefully too weak to perform it’s constitutional role. Back when I did the Power Failure series, I referred to the fact that Legislature would need to be more serious about advice and consent, and to a lesser extent oversight, if the executive were empowered to do it’s job. But that always seemed to me a secondary consideration, one that only became important after you do the executive.

Vincent’s idea is to stress the legislative part every bit as much as the executive, if not more so. His Government Accountability Act of 2008 would formalize lawmaker’s oversight of executive agencies, making legislative hearings looking into agencies’ performance more routine. What would be the virtue in that? Well, everybody about had a cow over the recent legislative probe into the Corrections Department, and with good reason — several good reasons, in fact. The unusual investigation WAS politically motivated, legislators didn’t have the staff to do a relevant critique and the Legislature as a whole hasn’t budgeted responsibly for corrections in many years.

Vincent’s proposal would make hearings standard operating procedure, which would lower the stakes when they happen, and thereby help lower defensiveness. Committees would have staff (an expense, but cheaper than the kind of waste it might prevent) to do a professional job in reviewing agency procedures and budgets. And the committees doing the probing would be the same ones responsible for a rational, programmatic budget for the agency. Rather than having a single committee do all the budget work, the committees with oversight authority would bring their expertise to bear to draft more realistic budgets, agency by agency.

As for the executive revamp, there are three main items:

  1. Create an Inspector General’s office empowered to look into just about anything in the executive branch, with independence from the governor.
  2. Eliminate three constitutional officers — not the ones that it makes the most sense to eliminate (such a list would include Education Superintendent and Adjutant General), but the ones that Vincent thinks most doable, given the proclivities of the Legislature: Comptroller General, Secretary of State, and Commissioner of Agriculture. (Basically, what this would constitute would be a start.)
  3. Takes purely administrative functions away from the Budget and Control Board, and vests them in a new Department of Administration. The constitutionally hermaphroditic board would still, inappropriately, have power to make policy decisions.

There’s a lot I would change in this, and a lot farther I would go, but this plan has one virtue over anything Gov. Sanford or anyone else has proposed lately: political viability.

At least, I hope it does. If we can’t do this much, we’ll never have responsible, accountable government in this state.

3 thoughts on “Vincent Sheheen’s plan to revamp state gummint

  1. Lee Muller

    These things are good, but they are insignificant changes. They address administrative responsibility, but that will have little impact on the root cause – bad legislation growing out of bad motives.
    The first factor in management is size. Small units can be managed better than large units. Essential services can be managed better than slop and fat. You have to reduce the overall size of government in order to make it honest, efficient and accountable.
    Then there is the whole issue of ethics to be addressed.
    Next is due process. The citizens have no fair process in an administration. The powerful receive special treatment, those who an afford attorneys receive proper treatment, and the rest receive mistreatment.
    Then there is the fact that there is no budget, just spending plans based off last year, and revenue projections which are constantly adjusted. The only goals are to spend every cent possible.

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  2. Brad Warthen

    Lee, I agree it doesn’t go far enough, but aren’t you encouraged by the steps in the right direction? Two points in particular — first, that committees in the Legislature would be responsible for funding PROGRAMS, not blank checks for the agencies, and then they would have to assess the effectiveness of those programs, which does not happen now. Second, the creation of the Inspector General position, which would be an independent post with the power to investigate anything. Don’t you think those would be good steps?
    Mind you, I think we need to go much, much further than this. But Vincent’s done a good job of putting together something that gets us started the right way, and actually has a chance of passing…

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  3. Lee Muller

    Funding of programs is what we have with Congressional earmarks – more control by the legislature circumventing the projects proposed by agencies. That is how money requested for dikes in New Orleans was diverted into useless pork projects.
    Project earmarks will not work until the state actually operates off agency budgets, with every item justified and prioritized every year, from a base of zero.
    An Inspector General will be just another pie job for some crony, with no power to do anything.
    A serious reform would start with
    1. barring legislators from practicing before agencies ($500,000 annually in fees to Sen. John Land)
    2. barring legislators and appointees from working for any business for which they received donations, or produced regulatory legislation or regulations, for a period of 5 years. ( Sen. Tommy Moore working as a lobbyist for payday lenders, + Jim Hodges working for the gambling lobby, etc )
    3. Due process for citizens. Loss of jobs for bureaucrats who refuse to comply with FOIA (first we need a real FOIA).
    Sorry to be a wet blanket, but the elder Sheheens were in office forever and did nothing to clean up the process. Nice people, who went along and played along with crooks.

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