COLUMBIA — South Carolina senators insisted Tuesday they’ve fast-tracked a government restructuring bill, even as Gov. Nikki Haley criticized what she called a stalling tactic.
The measure breaks up the Budget and Control Board and puts many of its bureaucratic duties – such as fleet and property management and janitorial services – in a new Department of Administration in the governor’s Cabinet. It’s a signature issue for Haley, who campaigned on eliminating the little-understood agency, which is controlled by a five-member board of politicians.
The bill would eliminate that powerful board, which includes the governor and the chairmen of Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.
Senators agreed to send the legislation through the Senate Finance Committee, a week after the chamber’s Judiciary Committee advanced it to the floor. And senators set Feb. 20 for full debate, saying the rare move simultaneously guarantees the measure won’t get stuck in committee and receives priority status. The designation would trump any potential “no” vote in the committee process.
“This sped up the process,” said Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, a co-sponsor. “We overcame nearly all procedural hurdles.”
Advocates worry that putting it through the finance committee would be a death sentence. It would’ve been, Massey said, without the agreement for date-certain debate.
But Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman said he has no intention of stalling the legislation, but rather wanted his committee to study its financial aspects, particularly how it handles agencies’ procurement.
“It’s an extremely important piece of legislation,” said Leatherman, R-Florence. “I wanted my subcommittee to really look at the bill.”
The bill’s chief sponsor is again Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, who’s introduced the idea for a decade.
He predicts Tuesday’s agreement means the Senate will advance the bill to the House by the end of February – which is fast by Senate standards.
The measure came close to passing last year, as both the House and Senate approved separate versions. But it died as senators failed to vote on the compromise before the gavel fell to close the session. The process had to start all over again this year.
Haley said she’s more motivated than ever to push the bill through. Earlier Tuesday, she said any vote to send it through finance would be a stalling tactic. The agreement didn’t change that criticism.
“The fact that a rare parliamentary tactic was used to create this delay makes clear there are still those in the Senate who flat out oppose reforming state government,” said her spokesman, Rob Godfrey. “Nonetheless, three weeks is not so long, and patience can be a virtue. The Senate Judiciary Committee produced a strong bill, and we will soon know whether the Senate as a whole is serious about reform.”