South Carolina Senators have taken a significant step towards making the state's top accountant an appointed position rather than one elected by voters. The move comes in the wake of a recent bipartisan Senate investigative report that placed the blame for a $3.5 billion financial reporting error squarely on Republican Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom. We covered in early March when local Summerville area State Representative Gil Gatch spoke out about a potential impeachment effort of Eckstrom.
Eckstrom has held the position since 2002, having been subsequently re-elected five times with little competition or scrutiny. However, in the wake of the financial reporting scandal, lawmakers from both parties have called for him to resign, and he now faces the possibility of being removed from his position through a constitutional process known as "impeachment lite."
The proposed constitutional amendment, which the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee unanimously sent to the full committee on March 21, would allow the governor to appoint the comptroller, with the state Senate confirming the nominee. If approved by voters, the change would come into effect in 2027, after Eckstrom's current term expires.
Proponents of the change argue that it would enable the Governor to appoint an expert, allow the Governor to remove the comptroller for an oversight, and make the governor accountable for the actions of the comptroller.
The proposed amendment would also strip the Comptroller of certain powers that are rarely used and that some lawmakers feel should be reassigned to the governor. For example, under the current constitution, if the state cannot pay its debt, the comptroller has unilateral authority to levy property taxes to prevent a default. Some lawmakers believe that this power should be assigned to the governor instead.
While there has been some talk of making other state positions appointed as well, including the Treasurer and the Secretary of State, for now, the political will seems restricted to the Comptroller.
The joint resolution would need approval from two-thirds of the State House of Representatives before going on the ballot. If it is approved by voters, South Carolina will join the 10 other states that already appoint their Comptrollers rather than electing them.
Overall, this move represents a significant change for South Carolina, and it remains to be seen how it will play out in practice. However, proponents of the amendment believe that it will ultimately be beneficial for the state, enabling it to hire qualified professionals and hold the Governor accountable for the actions of the Comptroller.