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Do We Really Need a ‘Governor Light?’

The recent upheaval in the S.C. Lieutenant Governor’s Office has many asking if the position is necessary.

For much of South Carolina’s history, short of assuming the role of the state’s chief executive upon the death of the governor or a vacancy in the office – which hasn’t happened in nearly half a century – about the only way for the lieutenant governor to make the news is to gun down a newspaper editor, be one the nation’s largest slaveholders, treat the state’s roadways as though they were Darlington Raceway or act in an unethical manner.

Today, the lieutenant governor is the lowest paid of South Carolina’s nine statewide elected constitutional officers, earning $46,545 annually for what is supposedly a part-time position. That’s barely half of what Secretary of State Mark Hammond earns.

The lieutenant governor’s only constitutional duties are to preside over the Senate and to act as governor-in-waiting.

Looking back over old South Carolina legislative records and history books, it would appear that at one time more may have been expected from the individual designated as second in command, at least based on the salary.

In 1868, during the heart of Reconstruction, salaries for state officers were as follows:

  • Governor – $3,500 a year, or about $61,000 today when adjusted for inflation;
  • Secretary of State – $3,000 (with some of that money to be used to hire a clerk);
  • Attorney General – $3,000;
  • Adjutant General – $2,500; and
  • Superintendent of Education – $2,500

The lieutenant governor was to be paid $10 a day during the legislative session, or about $175 a day today, according to a conversion chart available on the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ website.

Just two years later, an act was passed boosting the salary for the lieutenant governor to $2,500 a year, plus the $10 a day, meaning the position paid about $3,500 annually, according to John S. Reynolds in his 1905 work Reconstruction in South Carolina, 1865-1877.

When Reconstruction ended and the Democrats took control of the state in 1877, salaries dipped for many offices, in part because South Carolina was broke.

In 1878, the governor’s annual salary remained at $3,500, but the lieutenant governor appears to have been paid a straight $2,500 wage with no per diem for overseeing the Senate. The secretary of state, attorney general and comptroller general were all paid $2,100; while the treasurer received $2,000, and the superintendent of education earned $1,500.

But by 1887, just nine years later, the lieutenant governor’s salary was down to $1,000 a year, or just under $26,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.

After 1887, the lieutenant governor’s salary wasn’t even listed in the legislative records, and it wouldn’t be for at least the next 50 years, even though the salaries of all other constitutional offices were included, along with many lesser positions.

Those included the superintendent of the state penitentiary ($4,250 in 1937), state librarian ($2,400 in 1937) and governor’s messenger/porter ($504 in 1937).

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