The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

Does South Carolina need a Sunset Review Commission?

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In the midst of all the talk about budget cuts and shortfalls, state spending for FY10-2011 was the largest in state history.

Logically, cutting the budget requires policymakers to determine what should be cut – ideally, inefficient programs.

However, South Carolina does not have a permanent standing agency or commission that continually assesses how well government is working.

The key words here are “continual assessment,” as opposed to a temporary or one-time discrete assessment.

What is needed is an institutionalized and methodical way to assist legislators in making budgeting decisions.

To some extent, the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (LAC) performs this role.

But according to the most recent nationwide survey of legislative program evaluations offices conducted by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the LAC dedicates 100 percent of its workload to performance audits, program evaluations and policy analysis.

None of these activities are quite the same as pinpointing what agencies/activities should be eliminated or outsourced – that is governmental sunset reviews.

Already, a fifth of the nation’s state legislative auditor offices regularly conduct sunset reviews that examine state agency effectiveness and efficiency.

During the 2010 legislative session, H 3192 was introduced to create a legislative Sunset Review Commission and a Sunset Review Division of the LAC to evaluate state programs. The measure passed the House (without a recorded vote), but died in committee in the Senate.

But certain questions should be addressed before lawmakers reintroduce such legislation in 2011:

  • Should the LAC be conducting sunset reviews? Is any other agency (the Comptroller General, for instance) better qualified to do them?
  • Should the LAC share co-responsibility for such reviews with another state agency? For instance, the Comptroller General or the Office of the State Auditor?
  • How often should a sunset commission conduct a review of each agency? Every 2 years? Every 4 years?
  • What other safeguards or benchmarks should be implemented to ensure a sunset review commission will achieve its intended mission? This question is especially important since South Carolina previously had a sunset commission (abolished in 1998) that failed to eliminate underperforming agencies.

All in all, lawmakers need to find ways to eliminate waste if they wish to optimize the budget. Sunset reviews may be one of the answers – if we can begin by asking the right questions.


Written by Simon Wong

November 3, 2010 at 3:14 pm

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