Lawmakers once again want to look at hiking salaries for top state officials

March 7, 2018

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

Another year, another taxpayer-funded plan to study pay hikes for top South Carolina officials.

Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, has introduced a bill authorizing the State Fiscal Accountability Authority to hire out a study of the salaries of the state’s nine constitutional officers: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, adjutant general, comptroller general, treasurer, secretary of state, superintendent of education and agriculture commissioner.

Two separate bills, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, and Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and introduced earlier this legislative session, in part would require lawmakers to set the constitutional officers’ salaries every four years, beginning this year. Those bills also propose big pay hikes for state judges.

The governor makes $106,078 annually; except for the part-time lieutenant governor, the other constitutional officers receive $92,007 yearly. As a comparison, the annual average wage for all occupations in South Carolina is $41,530, according to 2016 wage estimates by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The nine constitutional officers historically have been popularly elected. Starting with this year’s gubernatorial election, however, the lieutenant governor will run with the governor on a single ticket. The adjutant general also will no longer be elected but instead will be appointed by the governor, with consent of the Senate.

Under Sheheen’s bill (S. 1071), the salary study “must recommend a salary” for each constitutional officer, “utilizing industry standard best practices.” The legislation also requires that the General Assembly “appropriate sufficient funds for the cost of said compensation study, either as a reimbursement for the fiscal year following completion of the study or for the preceding fiscal year if the actual cost is known.”

This year’s legislation isn’t the first time lawmakers have proposed salary studies. The Legislature in 2012, for example, quietly authorized a study that recommended pay raises for the governor and other constitutional officers.

The January 2013 report by the Hay Group, a Philadelphia-based consulting company, contended that top S.C. officials were underpaid compared to their counterparts in the country, having not received a raise since 1994. The firm also recommended then that S.C. lawmakers receive pay raises of up to 192 percent.

Lawmakers’ base annual salary is $10,400 for their part-time positions, though they receive other taxpayer-funded salary, reimbursements and benefits that can more than triple their base pay, as The Nerve has previously reported.

Records show that during fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the Hay Group was paid a total of about $135,000 by the former state Budget and Control Board, which was authorized by the 2012 law to oversee the pay studies. The BCB was the predecessor of the State Fiscal Accountability Authority, whose governing board is made up of the same five members – governor, comptroller general, treasurer, and chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.

Besides having the authority to set the salaries of the state’s constitutional officers, lawmakers also exert considerable control, through the Agency Head Salary Commission, over the salaries of top officials at more than 80 state agencies, including colleges and universities.

Senate president pro tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, is the commission’s chairman and as the Senate Finance Committee chairman, appoints four of the commission’s 11 members.  The House Ways and Means Committee chairman appoints four commission members, and the governor appoints the other three.

Under Sheheen’s bill, the commission would review the findings of the constitutional officers’ salary study and set the pay of each officer.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve. Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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