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Lt. Gov’s Office: First New SLED Agents, Now Administrative Raises?

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell likely won’t be sweating it as lawmakers today wrap up voting on whether to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget vetoes.

Haley didn’t veto any part of the fiscal 2013 budget for McConnell’s office that was passed by the Legislature in late June, including an additional $402,707 for “executive administration,” Office of State Budget records show.

What exactly that amount, which wasn’t publicly pushed by McConnell as was his request for additional money for senior citizen services, will be used for is unknown. OSB records list the amount only generally as for salary and benefits.

The $402,707 is on top of an additional $441,958 in the State Law Enforcement Division’s budget to provide four SLED agents as a security detail for McConnell, as reported earlier by The Nerve.

Including McConnell’s part-time annual salary of $46,545, which remains unchanged, administrative salaries and related expenses in his office collectively will increase this fiscal year, which started July 1, by $281,895, or 216 percent, over last fiscal year's ratified budget, according to budget records listed on the General Assembly’s website.

Excluding McConnell's position, that works out to an average increase of more than $56,000 for each of the other five authorized full-time staff jobs. A total of 5.3 full-time positions in the administrative division was authorized last fiscal year.

The total fiscal 2013 budget for the Lieutenant Governor’s Office is about $39.17 million, more than $38 million of which is for the Office on Aging. Forty-one full-time positions are authorized for that office, down from 47.7 authorized positions for last fiscal year, records show.

McConnell, the former longtime Senate president pro tempore and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who became lieutenant governor in March after Ken Ard’s resignation, didn’t respond to written and phone messages this week from The Nerve seeking comment.

Debbie Hammond, the lieutenant governor’s chief of staff who previously worked as the Senate Judiciary Committee manager, also didn’t respond to written and phone messages from The Nerve.

Hammond’s annual salary jumped from $93,323 to $105,000 – a 12.5 percent hike – when she followed McConnell to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, records show.

The other four members of McConnell’s administrative staff in the Lieutenant. Governor’s Office, as listed on the agency’s website  – Beckie Gunter, administrative assistant and scheduler; Hank Page, executive assistant; Julia Foster, communications director; and Mark Piland, program coordinator – are not listed in a salary database as earning at least $50,000 annually.

Records show that as of early March, Gunter was a Senate staffer, earning $61,091 annually in that position.

Since McConnell took over as lieutenant governor, the total number of employees in the administrative division and Office on Aging earning at least $50,000 has grown by one to 16, records show.

Besides his $46,545 salary as lieutenant governor, McConnell, a Charleston County Republican, also receives an annual legislative pension of $48,515, according to his most recent income-disclosure form filed with the State Ethics Commission.

As lieutenant governor, McConnell presides over the Senate as its president, guiding bills through the 46-member chamber and voting in cases of a tie.

As a senator for 31 years, he knew how to find money in the state budget for various projects, including, for example, helping to funnel millions of dollars to restore the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, which made history by becoming the first sub to sink an enemy ship in battle.

Contacted Tuesday, retiring Sen. John Land, D-Clarendon and a member of the Senate Finance and budget conference committees, told The Nerve that that neither committee had “a lot of discussion” on McConnell’s request for the additional $402,707 in administrative costs in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.

“I have a great trust in McConnell,” Land, the Senate minority leader, said. “I don’t think he would ask for any money that he didn’t feel he needed to make his office run.”

“We put the responsibility on him,” Land added. “It appeared reasonable, and it didn’t appear out of line.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence and a member of the six-member budget conference committee, did not respond Tuesday to messages from The Nerve seeking comment.

After becoming lieutenant governor, McConnell publicly pushed for an additional $5 million to help reduce a large backlog of seniors requesting home- or community-based meals and other services. Lawmakers eventually approved an additional $2 million for that program.

McConnell, however, wasn’t openly vocal about supporting the $402,707 in additional administrative costs for his executive staff. Ard, the former lieutenant governor, originally requested a total of $149,108 in general funds for executive administration, Office of State Budget records show.

OSB records show that the Senate Finance Committee and full Senate approved McConnell’s requested additional amount, though the House reduced it to $91,002. The budget conference committee, made up of three House and three Senate members, later restored the original $402,707 request.

At the start of last fiscal year, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office didn’t appear to be hurting for money. Office of State Budget records show that more than $600,000 in excess general funds and more than $3.2 million in surplus “other” funds were carried over into fiscal 2012.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org.

Budget General Assembly Other Funds State Agencies Transparency

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell Sen. Hugh Leatherman Sen. John Land