The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

Legislative Power: Even More than Meets the Eye

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With one goal in mind – accountability – the Policy Council recently published a three-part series on reforming the structure of government in South Carolina. The series of special reports looks at the following three reforms in detail:

Shortening the Length of Session

Restructuring the Balance of Power Between the Legislative and Executive Branches

Recording Every Legislative Vote

Earlier this week, the Palmetto Insider followed up by pointing out that per diem compensation in South Carolina is on the higher end compared to other state legislatures. The additional estimated $8,200 per diem per legislator is almost equal to each legislator’s annual salary of $10,400—another reason session should be shortened.

But just as legislators are being paid more than it appears on the surface, they also exercise a lot more power than is obvious.  As we noted in our report on legislative power, the Legislature makes more than 420 direct appointments to executive boards and commissions such as the Research Centers of Economic Excellence Review Board; and the Commission on Higher Education. In addition, the Legislature makes more than 100 direct appointments to the judiciary. 

While these numbers already show a concentration of power within the Legislature, they actually understate the case.

We looked at total appointments to 165 of the most prominent boards and commissions in South Carolina. The total number of appointments is 1,697. Of these, 1,213 are directly appointed by the Legislature or the governor.  

The governor appoints 785. The Legislature 428.

But who appoints the other 484?

The answer is quite diverse:

  • 59 by the Board of Medical Examiners
  • 38 by the Budget and Control Board
  • 24 by the State Superintendent of Education
  • 21 by the Chief Justice of the S.C. Supreme Court
  • 19 by the S.C. Supreme Court
  • 10 by the North Carolina House, Senate and Governor

And the list goes on …

Two points:

1)      If the Legislature doesn’t exercise direct control over these appointments, neither does the governor. Hence, in many cases, we are still talking about the same problem: encroachment upon executive branch authority.

2)      The Legislature still exercises indirect control over many of these appointments.

Supreme Court justices, for instance, are appointed by the Legislature. Thus, the Legislature has indirect influence over the 40 appointments made by the judicial branch. These include:

  • 19 to the Judicial Council of the State of South Carolina
  • 19 to the State Board of Law Examiners
  • 2 to the Commission on Indigent Defense

Likewise, the Budget & Control Board makes 38 appointments to various boards and commissions—namely:

  • 24 to the State Employee Grievance Committee
  • 8 to the S.C. Retirement and Pre-Retirement Advisory Board
  • 5 to the Deferred Compensation Commission
  • 1 to the S.C. Second Injury Fund

Keep in mind that the Legislature has essentially controlled the BCB since State Treasurer Converse Chellis joined the board in 2007. Chellis is a former state representative and was elected to fill the position by the S.C. Legislature after Thomas Ravenel was indicted on federal cocaine distribution charges.

In total, the Legislature makes 81 appointments indirectly: either as sitting members on various boards, or through their direct appointees to various boards.

That means the Legislature directly or indirectly controls 509 executive branch appointments out of a total of 1,697.

All in all, a compelling case for legislative reform.

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Written by Simon Wong

September 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm

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