In true fashion of being used, The State newspaper printed this letter from South Carolina state Sen. Glenn McConnell.
If you remember this diary of mine where The State newspaper printed the letter by South Carolina U.S. Senator's Graham and DeMint, The State has a knack of being used as a platform by politicians promoting their "agenda".
Well, McConnell's letter is about "setting the record straight" on oversight legislation at the SC Dept. of Transportation.
Meet me after the fold...
First, the reader must understand what happened at the South Carolina Dept. of Transportation and how it is organized. Cindi Scoppe of The State has done some great pieces on the SCDOT fiasco. Elizabeth Mabry was head of the SCDOT. Audit reports submitted to the SC state legislature by the SCDOT and Mabry's board "misled" the lawmakers on where $50 million dollars of the taxpayers money was spent. Not only were they misled, but, testimony by two department officials brought out that the "books" were cooked to hide it.
Two department officials -- testifying under oath, at times in tears and obviously fearful of retribution -- said top managers ordered the books to be manipulated...
But because of how the SCDOT board is organized, she couldn't just be "fired", no, she had to be "bought out". That's right, bought out. The state had to pay $40,074.57 into Elizabeth Mabry's state retirement account so she could "retire". No charges. No accountability. The taxpayer was punished.
Second, the reader must understand what has happened since Mabry's "retirement". Governor Mark Sanford has asked that the SC state legislature write a law reforming the SCDOT system giving him the ability to appoint, not just the head of the SCDOT administration, but all executive branch agencies. As Cindi Scoppe points out, there are many Governors who have this ability - just not South Carolina's governor. As it is, the head of the SCDOT is accountable to not one person. The SCDOT "board" was supposed to just "police themselves".
So, we are at Sen. McConnell's "setting the record straight" using The State, who lists him as "guest columnist". Funny, I thought he was a SC state Senator. From McConnell's letter:
I have been a primary sponsor of Gov. Mark Sanford’s efforts to restructure government, and I believe in bringing our executive branch into the 21st century. However, the Department of Transportation is different because it is not a true executive agency and, therefore, must be handled differently. Since the Department of Transportation can decide what it does and how much and how money is spent, it is a hybrid in government. Our founding fathers created a great system where the Legislature creates the policies that the executive branch implements. However, the Department of Transportation does both. It is this dual role that necessitated that it be treated differently and watched carefully.
It seems simple, doesn't it? You write a law that places the SCDOT firmly under the SC executive branch (Governor). And, Sen. McConnell, it wasn't watched closely. In fact, it wasn't watched to the tune of $50 million dollars.
The Senate bill would set up the Department of Transportation to run like a business. It would have a board of directors, each of whom would be appointed by the governor, who could remove them if they did their job poorly or unethically. They would be screened by a review committee to ensure that the individuals appointed were qualified to oversee an agency as large and diverse as many large corporations and that has a yearly budget of more than $1 billion. The board would then appoint an executive director to run the day-to-day operations of the agency. That person could be removed for any reason by the board. The board would also hire a chief engineer who would assist the board in creating a state highway plan. The chief engineer would be a professional who could only be removed for cause.
Did you get all of that? Step 1 - Governor nominates SCDOT board members. Step 2 - SC Senate approves/disapproves the nominations. Step 3 - The SCDOT board then picks their own leader and goes about their merry way.
The Senate plan was to create a state highway plan that was the result of objective criteria. The roads of our state, we believed, were too important to be built on the basis of politics instead of need, and we wanted to make sure that the Department of Transportation did not turn into a billion-dollar slush fund.
Step 4 - The SC Senate then, in conjunction with the SCDOT board, sets up the highway plan. Guess who gets their fingers into the BILLIONS of dollars under this plan?
Those who have attacked the Senate plan wanted instead a plan offered by Sen. John Courson that would have simply turned the Department of Transportation over to an executive director appointed by the governor, who could then fire the director for any or no reason. That political appointee would be responsible for determining where all projects were done, to whom contracts were awarded, who received and who did not receive repairs and how much money was spent. All of this would have been handed over with no oversight at all. This, in my opinion, would be like giving a child a thousand dollars to go to the store to buy groceries with no guarantee that he would buy the right groceries for the family.
First, there are many states that operate in this fashion. Second, if the money is mismanaged by the Governor's appointee, then the Governor pays the price at the polls and the person is supposed to be arrested, indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced and jailed by the SC Attorney General and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Unlike Elizabeth Mabry who had the SC taxpayer's buy her out with zero accountability.
Many members of the Senate were concerned that this was too much temptation to give to any one person.
We can stop right here in his letter, because this is the crux of South Carolina politics; who has the power and control of the money.
SC's legislators and Governor are fighting over who gets to play with the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money. And make no mistake here, this isn't about the SC government funding projects in bills and the Governor making sure they are accomplished (think Congress, Bush and Iraq war here), this is about who has control over all of it; money and power.
But, there is one more thing from McConnell's letter that truly shows McConnell for what he is:
That billion-dollar budget would be a re-election account and a tool to influence legislation. We could be faced with bridges to nowhere and stalled projects of needed roads to alleviate traffic congestion, all being held up by politics.
This coming from the man who spent $100 million dollars to fund the preservation of the Hunley submarine.
The story, which ran over three days and covered 13 pages, described how McConnell used stealth and skullduggery to surreptitiously fund the preservation of the submarine and to build a museum to put it in -- all at taxpayers' expense, of course. The ultimate price tag would run upwards of $100 million.
Bad enough? No?
Furthermore, McConnell has led the state on a reckless adventure to build a $42 million museum to house the submarine, yet his commission had done absolutely no feasibility, site, or market studies, which experts say are critical to knowing whether such a venture can succeed. McConnell's commission chose North Charleston as the site for their Hunley museum, far from the tourist traffic and historic sites of Charleston and Mt. Pleasant, but suspiciously close to McConnell's family-owned CSA Galleries, which bills itself as the nation's largest Civil War store.
And now, McConnell wants to "set the story straight" on why HE should be involved with a BILLION dollar account and cites bridges to nowhere? How about submarines going nowhere, Sen. McConnell!
Welcome to South Carolina politics, ladies and gentlemen, where the schools still suck, roads are mismanaged, literacy is in the dumps, taxes are high, unemployment is above national average (and as high as 10-12% in some counties), but, the SC state government wants their hands in even MORE money so they can get richer.