BY PHILLIP CEASE
Servants, sure — with benefits
When the Senate met for its organizational session last week, freshmen were allowed to introduce themselves, give their governing philosophy and make other remarks. One theme that kept appearing was service.
Politicians like to refer to themselves as public servants, and on the surface that seems to be true. Someone willing to give up his time for little to no compensation to try and make his town, county, or state a better place is actually a public servant.
That isn’t always the case in the South Carolina legislature.
Legislators are paid a salary of $10,400 a year. If that was all they received, it would be a sacrifice. But there are perks that are much more valuable and not widely discussed: a generous pension plan, which paid out over triple what legislators made and was closed to new legislators when it came under scrutiny; in-district expenses; per-diems (even if you can walk to the statehouse from your front door); and insurance. Taxpayers foot the bill for all that.
Other benefits fall into a grayer area.
Senator Hugh Leatherman, who was just re-elected Senate president pro tempore, owns a concrete company that has made millions from state contracts. Since his company acts as a subcontractor he doesn’t have to disclose this income on his economic disclosure form.
In a letter this month in which Leatherman said he would not fulfill the constitutional duties of the pro tem post but still wanted the position, he referenced his “service” numerous times. Notably absent was any mention of the money he’s made from those state contracts.
There are other examples in the statehouse – attorneys who elect judges and then practice in front of them, business owners who get lucrative state contracts and even those who funnel taxpayer money to non-profits where they serve on the boards.
So the next time you hear a South Carolina legislator waxing about service, it might not be a bad idea to ask just whom they’re really serving.