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The Augusta Chronicle (Georgia) Editorial - Change to S.C. Budgeting Process Critical

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The Augusta Chronicle (Georgia)

October 31, 2003 Friday, ALL EDITIONS


BYLINE: Mark Sanford; Guest Columnist

SHOULD STATE government be in the business of stocking private ponds for one-tenth of market prices? Should our health-care agencies have almost twice as many secretaries as nurses? Should the state hold on to 180 acres of land worth $50 million when just 200 patients are housed there? Do we really need to own 20,000 vehicles for a work force three times that number?

I think the answer to each of those questions is "No." But these examples are just the beginning of a whole host of things we've found in state government that demand reform of the way we approach not only the budget, but state government itself.

WHY IS IT essential that we take a different approach to taxpayers' money?

First, South Carolina already spends 30 percent more than the national average on the cost of state government. Not prioritizing when the chance existed has contributed to six rounds of mid-year budget cuts since 2001.

Second, we will begin this budget process essentially $500 million in the hole if you include, as I think we should, the $155 million deficit from two years ago. With these kinds of budget challenges, I think we are left with little choice than to take a different approach.

OVER THE LAST four months, we began that process -- becoming the first administration in the history of the state to hold formal, public budget hearings. These hearings, which have included meetings with dozens of state agencies, have produced some great ideas that will be incorporated into our budget proposal in the coming year.

We also went a step further and complimented these efforts with a page out of former President Ronald Reagan's book for finding ways to streamline government. Modeled after President Reagan's Grace Commission, we formed the Management, Accountability and Performance Commission (MAP Commission).

This commission invested thousands of hours into a comprehensive look at every aspect of state government. Its recently submitted report is full of ideas to reduce waste and duplication and bring accountability to government spending.

BOTH EFFORTS point to how essential it is that we do more than shave a few dollars off existing programs, but instead reform the way we do business in state government. Here are just a few examples of those reforms:

* We have 33 public colleges and universities in South Carolina. Sadly, we lack an integrated system and therefore there is mission creep and much duplication in the system.

* Our bus transportation system is equally disconnected in that the state pays for it but the districts use it. The state Department of Education literally runs more buses than Greyhound, operating the fifth-largest consolidated bus fleet in the nation. It is also the only state-run school bus system in the nation.

* The state-owned Port Royal port facility does less volume in a year than the Port of Charleston does in a week, costing the taxpayers $58,000 per year. We could sell that land for a profit, stop losing money annually and let local officials use the property for economic development purposes.

* We have a public health-care delivery system that isn't integrated and, as a result, too many patients have been visited by as many as five different agencies over the course of a few days, yielding expensive care and poor service.

NOT TO HIT A raw nerve with Chicago Cubs or Boston Red Sox fans given their recent bad news, but reform is a multi-inning process. The first inning -- which we've already started on -- consists of what we can do differently to save taxpayers' money within those Cabinet agencies that report back to this office.

* The Department of Corrections is now giving Waffle House a run for its breakfast-making money by building a grist mill and expanding its poultry operation. Making their own grits and eggs saves Corrections almost one million dollars per year and, in the process, inmates get to learn about agriculture and work ethic.

* Commerce has taken a page from the business world. Led by Bob Faith, our team has reduced 15 divisions to four, cut staff 26 percent (for a yearly savings of $1.5 million), and reduced its office space from four floors to two in the SouthTrust building, saving another $300,000 annually.

* The Department of Juvenile Justice now uses the Department of Corrections' dental facility. This is significant because $450,000 was almost spent on a new dental facility for the DJJ, although the Corrections' facility (with room to accommodate) was right down the road.

THERE ARE PLENTY of other examples, but the bigger point is the first inning is already underway and the innings of reform to come will consist of Cabinet-level and agency restructuring. I'd ask each one of you to take your turn at the plate in talking to policy leaders in Columbia and friends at home in supporting our efforts.

We need your help this year to bring about real change in those larger levels of restructuring.

(Editor's note: The writer is the governor of South Carolina.)

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