Amid Recession, State Agencies Adding Staff

April 20, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveWhile South Carolina struggles to cope with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, at least 26 state agencies – mostly colleges and universities – have added a total of more than 350 full-time workers this fiscal year, an analysis by The Nerve has found.

S.C. Budget and Control Board records show that state government agencies have laid off relatively few workers – 85 in total – this fiscal year, despite steep cuts in the general fund budget.

The reason for that likely can be found in the other two large pots of money that make up the total state budget.

The Nerve’s review of Budget and Control Board records and an amended state budget for this fiscal year found that:

  • Of 100 state agencies and offices, including colleges and universities, 26, or more than one-quarter, showed increases in the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) positions from the start of the fiscal year July 1 through April 13; 60 recorded decreases; and 14 listed no change. Of those recording decreases, nearly all appeared to be through attrition, rather than actual layoffs.
  • A total of 367 full-time workers have been added in the 26 agencies. The University of South Carolina had the largest increase in the number of FTE positions with 75. Rounding out the top 10 were: Coastal Carolina University (73), the S.C. Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (53); College of Charleston (26); Greenville Technical College (19); Lander University (15); Central Carolina Technical College (12); Tri-County Technical College (12); Trident Technical College (11); Winthrop University (11); Denmark Technical College (9); and the S.C. Department of Revenue (8).
  • Although most state agencies will experience at least 9 percent cuts in their general fund budgets this fiscal year, slightly more than half are projected to show increases from the start of the fiscal year in their total budgets, which include federal and “other” funds, such as fees and fines, according to a report published last week by The Nerve. The latest analysis found that of the 26 state agencies showing staff additions this fiscal year, at least 10 and possibly as many as 19 – virtually all colleges and universities – project increases in their total budgets. That includes USC, Coastal Carolina, the College of Charleston and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.
  • Only two of the 26 state agencies with staff increases – the S.C. Attorney General’s Office and the Commission on Indigent Defense – show projected decreases in their total budgets this fiscal year; the percentage drop for each is 2 percent. The other agencies in that group projected either no change in their total budgets, or increases of less than 1 percent.
  • Another set of Budget and Control Board records shows that through April 8, a total of 85 mostly full-time employees in 90 state agencies and offices have been laid off. Of that number, 22, or 26 percent, were cut from the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs. Rounding out the top five state agencies with the largest number of layoffs are the Department of Social Services (10), S.C. State University (9), Budget and Control Board (8), and the Governor’s Office and The Citadel (each with five).
  • From the start of the fiscal year July 1 through April 13, the total number of full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in state government dropped by 1,158, or slightly less than 2 percent, to 61,956, records show. That likely means that the vast majority of the reduction can be attributed to attrition, not layoffs.

The FTE records provided to The Nerve track only permanent state employees and do not include state agencies that are outside the state human resources system, such as the Lottery Commission and the Ports Authority, said Budget and Control Board spokesman Michael Sponhour.

Ben Fox, spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford, told The Nerve on Monday there have been no layoffs in the Governor’s Office at the State House. But the Division of Veterans’ Affairs lost three employees “due to federal funding drying up,” and two more positions were eliminated in the Continuum of Care program, though both affected employees were rehired for different positions, he said.

The Nerve last week sent written questions to the three agencies with the largest staff increases this fiscal year – USC, Coastal Carolina and the S.C. Department of Vocational Rehabilitation – requesting details on where the workers were added and how they were funded. Only the vocational rehabilitation department replied.

In a written response, department spokesman Mark Wade said 46 of the 53 additional positions are in the Disability Determination Services program, which handles disability claims for the federal Social Security Administration.

He said those positions were filled with “100% federal funds,” noting that the Social Security Administration determined extra workers were needed because of a 25 percent increase in claims in South Carolina.

The other seven additional hires are providing “specialized services in the Upstate for people with severe disabilities,” Wade said. Those positions were filled with a 70-30 split between federal and state funds, respectively, he said.

The department as of April 13 had 1,125 full-time employees, Budget and Control Board records show.

As for public colleges and universities such as USC, tuition has been skyrocketing in recent years. The cost for in-state undergraduate tuition at USC Columbia, for example, has jumped about 115 percent since the 2001-2002 school year, state records show.

USC had the highest-number of full-time employees as of April 13, with 5,868, according to Budget and Control Board records. The state Department of Corrections came in second with 5,659 employees, though it has lost 202 full-time positions since the start of the fiscal year, records show.

Coastal Carolina’s board of trustees in February voted to increase tuition for its in-state and out-of-state students by 4.91 and 8 percent, respectively. The university, which had 947 full-time employees as of April 13, reportedly was the first four-year university in the state to announce a tuition hike for next year.

Statewide, college tuition and fees in fiscal 2007 totaled nearly $1.4 billion, the single-largest source of “other” funds – everything not classified as general or federal funds – in the total state budget, according to a 2008 Senate Finance Committee study.

For this fiscal year, other funds were projected to jump by more than $465 million, from about $7.2 billion as of July 1, 2009, to more than $7.6 billion, according to an updated budget that was included in the 2010-2011 budget passed last month by the S.C. House.

Federal funds are estimated to increase this fiscal year by about $350 million, from $7.8 billion as of July 1, 2009, to more than $8.1 billion – mainly stimulus dollars.

The general fund budget is projected to drop from $5.7 billion to about $5.4 billion this fiscal year, according to the House estimate, though an approximate $60-million error revealed last week related to extra Department of Revenue tax collections likely would lower that figure even more, officials said.

Meanwhile, the state’s overall unemployment rate has remained among the highest in the nation.

The preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for South Carolina in March was 12.2 percent, the fifth-worst in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

Michigan remained first at 14.1 percent, followed by Nevada (13.4 percent), California and Rhode Island (12.6 percent each), and Florida (12.3 percent). The national unemployment rate remained at 9.7 percent.

For March, the unemployment rates in Lexington and Richland counties were 8.5 and 9.9 percent, respectively, according to the state Employment Security Commission. Many state government workers live in the two counties.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 779-5022, ext. 106, or rick@scpolicycouncil.com.