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Eckstrom is a fiscal watchdog

During his two terms as comptroller general, Richard Eckstrom has helped make state and local government more accountable by enhancing public oversight of their expenditures. He should be given another term to expand those efforts into the area of higher education.

Two years ago, Mr. Eckstrom launched state government’s “transparency” website, detailing expenditures of 80 state agencies. That initiative has expanded throughout the state as 21 local governments, including the city of Charleston and Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, have begun voluntarily posting their check registers on the web. So have a majority of the state’s public school districts.

Mr. Eckstrom, the state’s chief accountant, says public universities should sign on next so that the taxpayers can also obtain their spending records at the click of a mouse. The comptroller believes that greater transparency translates into greater fiscal restraint.

His office already posts online state-issued charge card expenses for the colleges, as it does for state agencies. And South Carolina is one of only a handful of states that posts individual expenditures of stimulus funds.

As a member of the state Budget and Control Board, Mr. Eckstrom recently voted to impose a building moratorium on state-supported colleges and universities that raised tuition by more than 7 percent. At least two colleges, Clemson and the Medical University of South Carolina, have reduced their tuitions accordingly.

A certified public accountant, Mr. Eckstrom has long sounded the alarm about billions in unfunded liabilities for the state retirement system, urging legislative remedies. That problem was acknowledged in a recent Pew Foundation report. Timely action is needed to forestall an eventual meltdown.

Mr. Eckstrom sounded the alarm about the Employment Security Commission’s failure to balance its books in November 2009, intensifying scrutiny of the agency, which eventually underwent restructuring by the Legislature.
The comptroller has supported other reforms to give greater authority to the governor. For example, he thinks the governor should be able to appoint the comptroller general, a proposal that would require legislative action and a statewide referendum.

The comptroller has cut expenses in his own office, and has worked to modernize computer operations for state agencies to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Mr. Eckstrom has been a fiscal watchdog for state government and has convinced many local governments to follow his lead. He should be given the opportunity to continue that good work.

By “The Post and Courier”