GOVERNMENT OVERHAUL URGED

In a 198-page report released Tuesday, the Governor’s Commission on Management, Accountability and Performance recommends more than 200 changes to state government it says could save the state $300 million a year.

Sanford created the commission to study making government more efficient and cost-effective. Nearly 300 state employees and 12 commissioners spent four months studying the way the government operates.

“This has been a sobering look at our beloved Palmetto State,” said commission chairman Ken Wingate.

The commission found many positive aspects of state government, he said, especially state employees, whom he called “hard-working public servants.”

But “the darker side, the less fortunate side” reflects the redundancies and fragmentation of state government, Wingate said. For example, there are 74 different accounting systems used by state government, and they “don’t communicate with each other.”

The commission’s recommendations are not binding on anyone and most require action by the General Assembly. Some of the proposals would require constitutional amendments that would have to be approved by voters.

Sanford said Tuesday he had not yet read the report but would consider it “part of an ongoing, four-year dialogue.”

“The hard part,” he said, “is implementing any of this.”

Sanford has long advocated increasing the governor’s power to administer state government. Current law gives the governor direct oversight over some agencies, while others answer to boards and commissions appointed by the General Assembly.

Among its recommendations, the commission proposes:

* Allowing the governor to appoint the secretary of state, adjutant general and state education superintendent. All three are now elected by voters.

* Making the departments of Mental Health and of Health and Environmental Control answerable directly to the governor

Mental Health and DHEC are now controlled by boards. All the state health and social service agencies would be overseen by a single person who would serve in the governor’s Cabinet.

* Creating a similar “cluster” agency to oversee public safety agencies, including the State Law Enforcement Division and the Department of Natural Resources

* Establishing a Department of Administration, under the governor’s office, that would centralize operations of state government in one place. Many of the functions of the State Budget and Control Board would be transferred to this department.

Consolidating power under the governor would be difficult, Sanford said. Lawmakers often closely guard their ability to direct and control state government, and persuading them to give up that power would take work.

House Speaker David Wilkins, R-Greenville, is “sure there are some areas we can make some improvements,” but he hasn’t seen the report and couldn’t speak to specifics.

Much of what the report suggests is already part of legislation pending in the General Assembly. Wilkins himself is sponsoring a bill to create the Department of Administration, and legislation exists that would eliminate the constitutional offices.

But those bills face an uncertain future, particularly in the Senate, where one member can often kill legislation.

State Sen. John Hawkins, R-Spartanburg, for example, has publicly vowed never to make the adjutant general an appointed, rather than elected, office.

College of Charleston political scientist Bill Moore said he expects “incremental change” in the balance of power in state government, “but I don’t think you’ll see dramatic change.”

Moore doubts lawmakers would marginalize themselves.

“The Legislature would be reluctant to wholesale surrender authority to the governor,” he said.

While many of the commission’s recommendations deal with the structure and machinations of state government, some deal with the personal relationship between it and state employees. This is especially true with regard to the recommendation to end the TERI plan.

The Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive Program allows state employees to retire after 28 years of service, but keep their jobs and their full salaries for another five years. This allows them to stop paying into the retirement system and collect all of the retirement payments they would have received under normal retirement.

It was originally designed by lawmakers to be open only to employees chosen by their managers as an incentive to keep talented people. But it was later discovered that federal law requires all employees to have access to the same retirement benefits. TERI’s participation skyrocketed, and it’s now open to all state employees and employees of local governments and school districts.

“It is an ineffective management tool,” said Wingate, adding that eliminating TERI could save the state retirement system $650 million in liability. “It’s just not accomplishing what was intended.”

That’s not true, said Broadus Jamerson, director of the S.C. Employees’ Association.

“It meets the mandate,” Jamerson said. “It is retaining dedicated, experienced, loyal state employees who have been doing the job for years.”

Employees currently participating in TERI would not be affected, but no additional employees could be added to the rolls if the Legislature goes along with the recommendation.

There are currently 10,400 employees in the TERI plan.

What the report proposes:

Sweeping changes that would dramatically increase the power of the governor, end the TERI retirement plan for state employees, study privatizing the state school bus fleet and eliminate the popular election of three statewide officers

What it claims to save:

Without providing specifics of how it arrived at the figure – and often without including expenses involved in implementing the recommendations – the commission projects savings of $225 million to $300 million a year.

What’s next:

Most of the proposed changes would have to be approved by the General Assembly; some would require voters to amend the state constitution; some could be done by the governor without the approval of the Legislature.

What’s in the report:

To read the complete report, go to www.thestate.com.

FIVE TO BE DEBATED

Recommendations from the MAP Commission most likely to face opposition from the General Assembly:

n Allowing the governor to appoint the adjutant general. Several lawmakers already have said they will never sit still for taking the power to select the adjutant general away from voters.

* Creating the Department of Administration – if it gives too much power to the governor

* Privatization of school buses. Many believe privatization provides less accountability, and studies have shown privatization is often more expensive.

* Clustering SLED with other law enforcement agencies under one person. Some lawmakers believe SLED should remain an independent agency.

* Eliminating the Teacher-Employee Retirement Incentive plan. State employees have not received raises in several years, and many lawmakers will not want to admit the TERI legislation is not doing what was intended.

FIVE MOST LIKELY

Major recommendations of the MAP Commission that are most likely to be approved by the General Assembly:

n Make the secretary of state and state education superintendent appointed, rather than elected, offices.

* Create the Department of Administration under the governor’s office. With House Speaker David Wilkins, R-Greenville, proposing this change as well, it stands a good chance of happening.

* Unify the computer systems state agencies use. Many of the agencies can’t communicate with each other electronically.

* Create a “Citizen One Stop” that offers a single point of entry into state government on the Internet.

* Increase the Capital Reserve Fund from 2 percent to 3 percent. The fund has been used for deficit reduction in the past several years but has not been sufficient to prevent damaging budget cuts. The increase would be made over four years.

FIVE WITH IMPACT

Recommendations of the MAP Commission with the greatest potential to affect the lives of South Carolinians:

More power for governor

Create a Department of Administration that would consolidate power to run state government with the governor. Much of that now resides with the State Budget and Control Board.

Appointed, not elected

Allow adjutant general, secretary of state and superintendent of education to be appointed by the governor. All are now elected by voters. This would require a constitutional amendment.

Abolish TERI

Eliminate the Teacher-Employee Retirement Incentive. One of the most popular programs in state government, TERI is used by most eligible state employees.

Study school bus privatization

Examine benefits of hiring a private company to operate the state school bus fleet. The report calls for a test program for privatization that could be expanded statewide if it makes fiscal sense.

Boost parks fees

Increase rates for camping and lodging at state parks on a targeted basis. Rates at popular parks would be increased.

MAP COMMISSION

A primer

n Created by executive order by Gov. Mark Sanford to study state government and recommend ways to make it better

* Chaired by Columbia attorney and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Wingate

* Featured 12 commissioners and the assistance of nearly 300 state employees

* Wingate could not say how much it cost to produce the report, although he estimated out-of-pocket costs of about $15,000. That does not include salaries for state employees.

* The commission was divided into committees that examined specific areas of state government.

Reach Gould Sheinin at (803) 771-8658 or asheinin@thestate.com.Caption:

PHOTO: COLOR1. Gov. Mark Sanford formed the commission to study ways to improve government efficiency. FILE PHOTOGRAPH/KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

2. The Wade Hampton Building. SEAN RAYFORD/THE STATE

3-5. Hammond, Tenenbaum, Spears

6. Heath Williamson, center, is a TERI teacher. TAKAAKI IWABU/THE STATE

7. Students board bus at Elgin’s Blaney Elementary. JEFFERY MINNISH/THE STATE

8. Campers at Lake Wateree State Park. JEFFERY MINNISH/THE STATEMemo: “Three things to know,” “Five with impact,” Five to be debated,” Five most likely” and “Map Commission, a primer” follow article.

October 1, 2003  State (published as The State) 
 Columbia, South Carolina
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