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We posted a story last week about a behind-the-scenes effort to move the federally-funded South Carolina State Energy Office (SEO) from the S.C. Budget and Control Board (B&CB) to the state’s Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS).

While this effort may seem like little more than a mouthful of alphabet soup, it actually involves billions of dollars – and represents a critical battle in the ongoing war for control of the executive branch of government in South Carolina.

As we’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, South Carolina’s executive branch of government needs to be run by the governor – no matter what we may think of the person who currently occupies that office. At the end of the day that’s the only way to provide a direct line of accountability to the taxpayers – as opposed to the splintered, wasteful, dysfunctional and corrupt system we currently have.

But lawmakers aren’t proposing to move the State Energy Office into the governor’s cabinet – they’re proposing to move it into an agency that’s run by a handful of powerful legislators.

In fact we’re told that former B&CB executive director Frank Fusco – who has been seen trolling around the State Senate office building in recent weeks – is drafting a Senate “restructuring plan” that includes this very proposal.

If successful, this legislatively-driven effort would allow the state’s electric cooperatives to continue reaping the taxpayer largesse that they enjoyed while Fusco was at the helm of the B&CB.  The cooperatives’ lobbying arm, incidentally, is led by Mike Couick – a former State Senate staffer who is loyal to Senate President Glenn McConnell.

Why does this matter to taxpayers?

Prior to his resignation last year, Fusco – under pressure from Couick’s legislative allies – agreed to give the electric cooperatives $3.5 million in federal “stimulus” funds that had been allocated to the State Energy Office, a unit of the B&BC. The cooperatives proudly announced this windfall, but piped down once Fusco realized that contracts and grants for these federal funds had to be awarded through competitive processes.

Accordingly, a contract solicitation was hastily drawn up, briefly advertised, and lo and behold there was only one bidder – the electric cooperatives.

The lion’s share of this money – $3 million – was then given to the coops under the auspices of “Low-Income Manufactured Housing Retrofit and Evaluation.” The remaining money was given to them in the form of a solar energy grant.

When Fusco was forced out last December, this gravy train was jeopardized.

Proposed solution? Exactly what we wrote about last week … moving the State Energy Office into the legislatively-controlled Office of Regulatory Staff.

While this effort is underway, another legislatively-dominated agency – the Public Utilities Regulatory Committee (PURC) – is working to change the state’s building code laws so that the State Energy Office would be eligible for additional federal funds (which they would then hand over to the cooperatives).

Obviously, somebody’s watching out for the cooperatives bottom line … but who is watching out for the taxpayers? And energy rate payers?

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley has said that she wants to take government back “for the people.” In fact, she led a “movement” last year that promised to do just that. She has also made government restructuring one of her top priorities.

Unfortunately, Haley appears to be on board with this deal – at least that’s the word we’re getting back in the wake of our founding editor’s recent open letter on government restructuring.

That’s too bad … this office (and the rest of the B&CB) should be placed within her cabinet.

Whatever anyone thinks of Haley, she’s the governor – which means that she should be responsible for the executive branch of government. That’s what 51.3 percent of Palmetto state voters elected her to do, right?

Obviously lawmakers are never going to let that happen, though … and Haley isn’t interested in fighting them.

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