Legislative Staff Pay Continues to Grow

March 30, 2015

Investigative Reports

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MoneyOnce again, the 170-member General Assembly can’t seem to tighten its own financial belt.

Since January last year, the total payroll of House staff employees making at least $50,000 annually has increased by 11.3 percent to $4.53 million, while the total salaries of Senate staffers earning $50,000 or more jumped by about 8.3 percent to $4.86 million, The Nerve found in a review of salary records obtained this month under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

Lawmakers gave state employees an across-the-board 2 percent raise for this fiscal year, which started July 1. Eleven House staffers earning at least $70,000 received pay hikes since Jan. 1, 2014, ranging from 10 percent to 61 percent; several of them received promotions, The Nerve’s review found.

Under a state budget proviso renewed yearly, the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore “shall determine the amount necessary for compensation of the employees of the House and Senate” from “funds appropriated for Employee Pay Increases.” Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, is the current House speaker; Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, is the Senate president pro tempore.

The number of House staffers in the $50,000-plus group increased by five to 58, while the total number of listed employees in the 124-member chamber was 82 as of last month, compared to 79 as of Jan. 1, 2014.

Although the number of House members is more than 2.5 times bigger than the 46-member Senate, the Senate had 119 listed staffers as of last month – 37 more than the House – compared to 115 at the start of last year, records released to The Nerve show. During the period, the Senate added three employees to its $50,000-plus group, bringing that total to 60.

But the House isn’t exactly short-staffed: A state budget proviso designates that $287,500 be spent this fiscal year for the House’s “Legislative Aide” program, while another proviso allows the chamber to have up to 144 pages to be “available for any necessary service.”

Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville and chairman of the House Operations and Management Committee, toldThe Nerve when contacted Friday the House currently has 37 legislative aides who assist House members with office tasks such as “constituent services and correspondence, and answering phones.” The aides typically work 20 to 25 hours per week during legislative session weeks, receiving $9 per hour to $17 per hour depending on how many lawmakers they are assigned to help, he said, adding his committee is considering a proposal to extend the part-time program year-round.

“We’re part-time members who have full-time jobs,” he said.

The House pages are college students who “walk bills around the (House) floor to get signatures,” and also help out in committee meetings, Smith said.

As for the Legislature’s full-time staff, dozens have received sizeable pay hikes in recent years. In 2013, for example, The Nerve found that 33 Senate staffers earning at least $50,000 received raises ranging from 8.15 percent to more than 67 percent over an 18-month period; in 2012, The Nerve reported that 32 House staffers in the $50,000-plus group received pay hikes ranging from 5 percent to 55 percent compared to the previous fiscal year.

Under the FOIA, the salaries of public employees earning less than $50,000 generally are listed in $4,000 increments. Including the incremental pay ranges, The Nerve’s review found that the total annual payroll for all listed staffers in the General Assembly as of last month ranged from $5.5 million to $5.6 million in the House – a collective hike of more than 7 percent from Jan. 1, 2014 – and about $6.8 million to $7.1 million in the Senate – a total increase of approximately 6 percent.

House Clerk Charles Reid and Senate Clerk Jeffrey Gossett – the top-paid staffers in their respective chambers – make $181,079 and $168,738, respectively, receiving respective raises totaling 4 percent and 2 percent since the start of last year, records show. The median annual income for all House and Senate staffers earning at least $50,000 is $69,282 and $76,006, respectively.

Two top-paid House staffers who worked for former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston  – spokesman Greg Foster and chief of staff Brad Wright, an attorney – were not retained after Rep. Lucas became speaker following Harrell’s resignation from office and guilty plea to criminal ethics charges in October. Wright and Foster were making $129,350 and $114,240, respectively, last year, records show.

Patrick Dennis, formerly the House Judiciary Committee’s chief attorney, is the current chief lawyer in the Speaker’s Office. Dennis’ salary as of Jan. 1, 2014, was $105,678; his salary under Lucas is $125,000, an 18 percent pay hike, records show. Caroline Delleney, daughter of state Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, and former spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, is Lucas’ communications director; her salary is $55,000.

Following are the 12 top-paid House staffers, records show:

  • Charles Reid, House clerk/personnel director:  $181,079;
  • Beverly Smith, chief of staff, Ways and Means Committee:  $142,046;
  • Don Hottel, assistant clerk in charge of House research:  $131,284;
  • Patrick Dennis, legal counsel for House speaker:  $125,000;
  • Pierce McNair, director, Education and Public Works Committee:  $121,335;
  • Rena Grant, legislative director, Ways and Means Committee:  $106,105;
  • Jennifer Dobson, director, Legislative Oversight Committee:  $105,100;
  • Mitch Dorman, sergeant-at-arms:  $104,485;
  • Emma Dean, chief counsel, Judiciary Committee:  $99,799;
  • Mary Folger, Journal clerk:  $95,336;
  • Karen LaRoche:  information resources manager:  $95,146; and
  • Daniel Boan, budget/finance director, Ways and Means Committee:  $95,000

Below are the 12 top-paid Senate staffers, records show:

  • Jeffrey Gossett, Senate clerk:  $168,738;
  • John Hazzard, research director, Judiciary Committee:  $145,730;
  • Michael Shealy, budget director:  $142,134;
  • Kenneth Moffitt, assistant Senate clerk:  $135,000;
  • Angela Willis, senior budget analyst:  $111,942;
  • Craig Parks, senior budget analyst:  $109,252;
  • Charles Gibson, senior research analyst:  $103,265;
  • Erin Crawford, research director/chief of staff:  $102,590;
  • Robert Dawkins, chief of staff:  $102,381;
  • Martha Casto, research director:  $102,000;
  • E. Katherine Wells, staff attorney:  $101,835; and
  • Elizabeth Dworjanyn, director, Senate Finance Office:  $95,513

South Carolina Policy Council research intern Danny Morris contributed to this story. Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.