Tensions erupted at a S.C. Budget and Control Board (B&CB) meeting on Tuesday when Gov. Nikki Haley and State Treasurer Curtis Loftis sparred over cash flow problems at the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT).
The caustic back and forth was the latest in a series of spats between the two Republican officials – both of whom were elected in November.
This time, things got so heated that Loftis at one point compared Haley’s managerial style to that of former leaders of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
As we’ve reported previously, SCDOT (a quasi-cabinet agency) has blown more than $344 million of its available debt capacity on a corrupt vote-trading scam – one that saw numerous non-essential highway projects approved.
As a result of this corrupt mismanagement, SCDOT now finds itself in a $50 million hole – and is currently unable to pay contractors for priority road projects. On Tuesday, Haley – who has previously approved a pair of $100 million bailouts for the state’s Medicaid agency (click here and here) – refused to let the board discuss a $50 million bailout for SCDOT.
“We are not going to be adding agenda items just because,” Haley told Loftis, who attempted to bring the issue up for debate.
Loftis then pointed Haley to a letter that he wrote her four months ago seeking a change in the protocol for board meetings – a letter which he says Haley ignored.
“We’re not going to do this,” Haley snapped.
At that point, Loftis accused Haley of running a “Politburo” meeting – a reference to the former Soviet executive committee.
First things first – we don’t necessarily have a problem with Haley’s decision to block this vote. After all, SCDOT (including the campaign contributor that Haley appointed to serve on its governing commission) is solely to blame for its own fiscal woes. The fact that its leaders approached board members prior to Tuesday’s meeting in search of a taxpayer-funded bailout is deplorable.
Every bit as deplorable, in fact, as its attempts to raise South Carolina’s gas tax.
It is interesting, however, that Haley would approve taxpayer-funded bailouts for one state agency while rejecting them for another … but that’s neither here nor there. Haley is nothing if not two-faced.
The real issue is – once again – a total lack of accountability in state government. As was the case prior to the “reform” of SCDOT four years ago, decisions at this agency continue to be made based on political considerations – not the best interests of South Carolina taxpayers – with predictably disastrous results.
And as usual, when the sh*t hits the fan absolutely no one is in charge – even though Haley claims that she has the current situation under control.
“The Governor wants this to be about insignificant meeting protocol, I want this to be about paying the hard-working men and women of South Carolina,” Loftis said in a statement after the meeting. “This is a lost opportunity for (Haley) to be transparent about this issue and accountable about her cabinet. These issues should be discussed in public and not behind closed doors.”
We agree with him on the transparency front … we just don’t support giving this agency any additional money.
Like the health care agencies that Haley bailed out earlier this year, SCDOT doesn’t deserve an additional dime from taxpayers. But that doesn’t mean its problems should be swept under the rug, either.
SCDOT – like the Budget and Control Board itself – remains a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative agency that is rife with corruption and devoid of accountability. That won’t change until it is responsibilities are placed entirely and exclusively under the governor’s cabinet.
Obviously, we don’t expect Haley to do any better running this agency than state lawmakers (in fact, her status quo SCDOT appointments have been unmitigated disasters). We do, however, expect that voters will show her the door when she fails … which is what accountability is all about, isn’t it?