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S.C. panel OKs bill to tweak state operations

A state Senate panel Thursday approved a bill broadly creating a Cabinet-level Department of Administration that would give governors more control over the day-to-day operations of state government.

The bill, which lawmakers say still needs fine-tuning, broadly outlines an agency reshuffling that would involve a new Department of Administration, and the existing State Budget and Control Board, General Assembly and other state agencies, including the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"We want to do this this year," said state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, chairman of the subcommittee that acted Thursday. "There's just a strong desire to get this done."

The proposal is a major piece of Gov. Nikki Haley's agenda, and the governor's staff has been working with lawmakers for weeks to address concerns.

The House has approved a similar bill on several occasions. But efforts to create the new department and give the governor more power received a boost after Haley's election when state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, endorsed the idea. Leatherman, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, is one of the most influential members of the General Assembly.

"Reporting the Department of Administration bill out to the full Judiciary Committee is a great step forward for South Carolina, and brings us one step closer to running state government like a business," Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said in a statement.

Godfrey did not answer when asked if Haley had any concerns about the Senate subcommittee's bill.

According to the bill, the Department of Administration would take over building and property maintenance, information technology services, the state health insurance plan, the statewide accounting system and other support services.

The Budget and Control Board still would oversee state contracts, state budget analysis and the Confederate Relic Room.

State retirees at Thursday's Senate hearing said they want the five-member Budget and Control Board to maintain oversight of changes to the state's retirement benefits and health insurance plan.

Haley has said those benefits must be cut, contending the state and taxpayers no longer can afford them.