The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) is running a $5 million deficit – or so says its new director, Catherine Templeton.

Wait … what?  Is she sure?  According to data compiled by the S.C. Comptroller General’s office, SCDHEC was running a surplus of $5.5 million as of July 1 – although that analysis only addressed the general fund portion of the agency’s budget.  So …  either the agency is in the red by more than $10 million elsewhere in its budget or somebody spent a lot of money “real quick like.”

Or maybe Templeton hails from the Nikki Haley School of Accounting … meaning she sometimes “knows the value of a dollar.”  But sometimes not.

Guess we’ll find out …

As far as we can tell, Templeton has spent her first few months on the job trying to figure out what her sprawling, 5,000-employee agency does – holing herself up in some Beautiful Mind-style shed in Charleston, S.C. where she pores through reams of spreadsheets and organizational charts.  Has this self-imposed exile produced anything in the way of taxpayer savings?  Or proposals for the consolidation of our state’s splintered and duplicative environmental functions?

Not yet … although in Templeton’s defense even if she comes up with tens of millions of dollars in savings there is currently no mechanism in place to send that money back to the taxpayers.  In fact state lawmakers have spent more than $3 billion in new money over the past two years alone on growing government – with the same predictable results for our citizens and taxpayers.

As we’ve noted ad nauseam, S.C. Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) has spent the last few years pushing for the creation of a “taxpayer rebate fund” that would allow lawmakers the opportunity to vote on whether to send surplus revenues and so-called “savings” back to the taxpayers.

Davis’ taxpayer rebate fund was defeated by a 24-18 vote earlier this year, with “Republican” Senators  Thomas Alexander, Paul Campbell, Wes Hayes, Jakie Knotts, Hugh Leatherman, Larry Martin, Luke Rankin and Greg Ryberg voting against it.  In 2011, a similar amendment sponsored by Davis was rejected by a 23-17 margin – with Alexander, Campbell, Hayes, Leatherman, Martin and Sen. Billy O’Dell voting against it.

Anyway … whether SCDHEC is $5 million in the red or $5.5 million in the black, the bottom line is that this $573 million-a-year agency does way too much, and does it way too inefficiently.

Like the rest of state government, SCDHEC needs to be pruned … and the money saved from this pruning needs to go back into the economy, not spent elsewhere in government.