The Daily Journal: Sandifer guest commentary

Efficiency. Accountability. I’m sure we can all agree that we need more of both in South Carolina state government — and it’s going to take a bipartisan effort to make it happen.

That’s just the approach we’re taking with the newly created Reform Caucus. More than two dozen Republican and Democratic representatives and senators have committed to working together to make government more accountable to the people and more efficient for taxpayers. I am honored to co-chair this bipartisan group, which is working for measures that will streamline government and make it more accessible to citizens.

The way I see it, reform is not an option, it is a necessity. We simply owe it to taxpayers to make sure South Carolina’s state government is being a good steward of every dollar sent to Columbia.

What does the launch of a Reform Caucus really mean? It means we’re taking assertive action to make changes to how our state operates. It means we’re going to save money for our taxpayers. It means we are going to ultimately improve the quality of life for citizens of our great state.

Our “blueprint for reform” will initially focus on nine priorities.

We’ll start by banning taxpayer-funded lobbyists. We’re convinced state agencies that receive public funds should be prohibited from employing lobbyists to influence state and local government bodies.

We’ll move to stop the practice.

We’ll also push to require full disclosure for all campaign spending by corporate-funded non-profits or 527’s. This is vital to efficiency since corporate-funded, out-of-state special interest groups are actively exploiting our campaign funding loopholes to exert financial influence on our state government. In the same vein, we’ll also require online disclosures for all campaigns, PAC’s and lobbyists. We believe the public deserves to have more access to campaign finance and lobbying information.

With regard to the Competitive Grants Program, we’ll work to eliminate the “pork” with a local economic stimulus reinvestment pool. Practically speaking, we are emphatic that every dollar invested through Competitive Grants be used for projects that build South Carolina’s economy. That has not always been the case up to this point. To ensure the funds are being spent on economic development, we will require that each request for funding be submitted with an estimate of the project’s economic impact.

Insurance is another major issue we’ll tackle. Our citizens continue to face challenges finding affordable, accessible insurance companies. The bottom line here is this: We need greater accountability in the insurance industry. We’ll work to allow the public to elect the State Insurance Commissioner. We’ll also call for periodic performance audits of each agency and program to be conducted by outside auditors to ensure legislation is achieving its intended purpose.

Where taxpayer funds are being spent, truth-in-bidding is another important area that needs reform. We’ll move to bring change to the process, which has too often seen companies bid low, only to run up costs with change orders and hidden fees after they are knee deep in the job. This is a waste of taxpayer dollars. We’ll move to implement a strong truth-in-bidding policy that will reduce costly change orders and keep costs within approved budgets.

With respect to fiscal responsibility, we feel strongly that the government needs a five-year planning process to set long-term goals and priorities, just like a business in the private sector would. We need to restructure our budgeting process to recopriorities, and then develop funding strategies that meet those needs.

Setting priorities will help us meet the most pressing and basic needs of our citizens before monies are spent on less-critical programs.

Finally, we’ll move to make better use of technology to ensure an open process. We understand that it’s not realistic for most citizens to attend governing boards and commission meetings. State agency and cabinet meetings should be made available to the public in the same way that House and Senate sessions are currently. We’ll work to have these meetings broadcast over the Internet so taxpayers can keep up to date on the decisions that impact them.

This is one of the most exciting reform movements in our state’s history. And because it’s a bipartisan effort, I am confident that we can see real reform in these and other areas we identify. There has perhaps never been a better time to make sweeping reforms toward accountability and efficiency for the taxpayers’ benefit.

Government efficiency has been a major focus of mine since I was first elected to the General Assembly in 1995, and I am proud to help lead the charge for reform and to see the cooperation on these measures from both sides of the aisle.