While it might be difficult for many to believe, let alone understand, the government of South Carolina has no fewer than 85 agencies. Accordingly, each agency has a leader or agency head who not only receives a very generous salary, but a state-furnished automobile, expenses, pension and other perks.
Several years ago, the salaries of these agency heads were determined by the Legislature, with the expected result of cronyism of the worst sort.
To their credit, the Legislature determined that to avoid these sorts of problems, it would be better to have an independent commission, with the help of unelected consultants, to determine what these salaries should be.
The S.C. Agency Head Salary Review Commission is comprised of three state senators, three House members and three civilians. One of the members, Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, is the current chairman.
The consultants investigated the salaries of many similar jobs in the private sector and created for each department head a salary range that consisted of a minimum, a maximum and a middle point.
Each department was also judged on the responsibilities of that particular agency. These were the bases for setting salaries for most of today’s agency heads. Where in the salary range the prospect would be considered also took into account the prospect’s background, education and previous professional experience.
During my time on the commission salaries have ranged from a low of $90,000 per year to as much as $250,000.
Following the election of Gov. Nikki Haley, the commission set the salaries of about 20 new agency heads.
Gov. Haley recommended and, for the most part, the commission agreed, to set the salary of the new agency heads to the amount received by the person leaving that job.
Where the governor did not appoint the new agency head, the salary request almost always was higher than that of the last agency head. In almost all cases the commission set the salary to no more than what the last agency head received.
It would appear that the majority of agency heads are paid much more than the responsibility of the job merits, and in comparison with similar private-sector jobs.
This should not surprise the reader because this practice is currently typical all across America and one of the reasons that so many cities, counties and states have such serious financial problems.
Government officials are overpaid in salaries, perks and pensions for the responsibilities they have.
Furthermore, many of these positions are given to people who have already had a career in the private sector that pays most of them a pension or a generous 401(k) matched retirement plan. The term “double dipping” comes to mind.
Government, unlike the private sector, has no bottom line to deal with since they answer only to the voters and taxpayers and not shareholders. While we can (and should, but do not) vote public officials out of office for their tax and spend practices, it is much more difficult to do the same with hired government employees.
Until such time as legislators are forced, by the voters, to stop their tax-and-spending way, little will change.
Tom Hatfield, a member of the S.C. Agency Head Salary Review Commission, is a Citizen Reporter for The Nerve who lives in Hilton Head.