nikki haley

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said she was not going to provide state lawmakers with a detailed spending plan during her campaign … then she flip-flopped five months later and said that she would.

Who knows where she’ll end up on any given day, right?

Haley is required by law to submit an executive budget of some sort, although we’re skeptical that she will take this responsibility to heart the way her predecessor did (one of his few redeeming characteristics). In fact, we’ll be shocked beyond words (well, almost) if Haley produces anything resembling a comprehensive spending blueprint.

Which is too bad … because if she’s truly leading a reform “movement,” then this state needs her to do that (and do it well).

To her credit, Haley has said that she wants to be actively involved in the budget process (presumably on behalf of the taxpayers). That’s certainly something we hope she’ll do – and again, do well. Unfortunately, at this point in the “process” she seems to be coming up short in the idea department.

Way short …

Perhaps hoping to rectify that (or perhaps not), Haley held a closed door meeting this week with two of her fellow S.C. Budget and Control Board (B&CB) members. For those of you unfamiliar with how state government in South Carolina “works,” the B&CB is a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative entity that was set up to prevent S.C. governors from exercising true executive authority over their own branch of government.

Along with the swarm of statewide offices we elect, it’s one of the main reasons that S.C. governors exercise considerably less power than governors in other states. It’s also one of the reasons why there’s no real accountability in state government – which has led to all sorts of disastrous consequences for taxpayers.

We oppose the B&CB’s very existence, and have repeatedly recommended that it be disbanded and all of its functions placed within the governor’s cabinet. Unfortunately, legislative leaders are moving in the opposite direction and hoping to claim some of the board’s most essential functions for themselves – which would obviously be a step backward for accountability.

Anyway, as this structural debate rages on there is an immediate issue that the B&CB (as currently configured) must address. Specifically, we’re talking about a $264 million deficit at three cabinet agencies – including a $228 million deficit at the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which has been picked over by lawmakers.

At her closed door meeting this week with S.C. Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman and Danny Cooper (a meeting that represented a majority of votes on the B&CB), Haley is said to have discussed the DHHS budget.

In fact her spokesman told the AP that the governor – who has long-touted (but seldom practiced) government transparency – called the meeting “to lay out some of our administration’s solutions to next year’s health care budget shortfall.”

(To read the AP report, click here).

Hmmmm ….

Left out of the meeting (other than the press and public)? S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis and Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom – who along with Haley, Leatherman and Cooper will be called upon to address the DHHS budget shortfall at next week’s public meeting of the B&CB.

On Thursday, Loftis told the AP that he was seeking the minutes from the governor’s meeting with Leatherman and Cooper, adding that he was “concerned about the appearance” of a majority of the board gathering in private to discuss state business.

Haley’s spokesman responded by telling the AP that the meeting was none of Loftis’ concern, thank you very much.

Late Thursday, FITS spoke with Eckstrom advisor Rod Shealy, Jr. – who said that his boss had no qualms about the meeting.

“He’s satisfied that the meeting wasn’t Budget and Control Board-related,” Shealy said. “Also I don’t imagine she would have a problem sharing with us what was discussed.”

Shealy added that in Eckstrom’s opinion there was no effort on Haley’s part “to try and evade any scrutiny.”

We disagree …

Haley not only based her campaign on transparency, she has built her entire political career around the issue. Without it, she would still be a relatively non-consequential S.C. House member hustling companies with business before the state for undisclosed lobbying … err, consulting … work.

Haley has held herself to a higher standard … and now it’s time that she honored that standard.