Pay Cuts Proposed for Legislators, Agency Heads

February 7, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveState agency heads and lawmakers would experience a 25 percent pay drop this year and for the next two fiscal years under a pair of House bills.

Cutting the pay of the 16 members of Gov. Nikki Haley’s Cabinet, assuming nominees who are confirmed earn as much as their predecessors, would save state taxpayers $1.5 million over the three fiscal years, a review by The Nerve found.

For the 170-member General Assembly, the savings likely would be at least $1 million for the period.

“If they’re agency heads, and they’re asking people to take furloughs and pay cuts, they should do the same,” Rep. Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield and sponsor of the joint resolutions (H. 3504, H. 3505), told The Nerve last week.

Lawmakers this session face tough choices in deciding how to fill a 2011-12 budget hole projected to be more than $800 million. House budget writers have been asking state agencies to consider 20 percent budget cuts for next fiscal year.

Brown said there were a “few laughs and snickers” on the House floor when introduced his bills on Jan. 27.

The Nerve last week asked Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey to respond to Brown’s bills, but he did not reply before publication of this story.

The Nerve also asked the General Assembly’s top four leaders – House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston; Rep. Dan Cooper, R-Anderson and the House Ways and Means Committee chairman; Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston; and Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence and the Senate Finance Committee chairman – for their views on the bills.

They did not respond to written questions last week from The Nerve.

Leatherman has served as chairman of the state Agency Head Salary Commission, an 11-member panel made up mostly of lawmakers that sets annual salaries for the heads of dozens of state agencies, commissions and authorities.

Contacted last week by The Nerve, John Crangle, director of the nonprofit government watchdog group Common Cause of South Carolina, described Brown’s bills as “pretty drastic proposals.” But he also said there is “some merit to them.”

“If the Legislature expects low-income people to make sacrifices, then they should do the same thing,” Crangle said. “It’s not like they’re starving.”

Brown’s resolution (H. 3504) calling for a 25 percent cut in lawmakers’ pay would apply only to their annual $10,400 salary.

As The Nerve reported in a three-day series in October, legislators also can receive – and must report it as income if they do receive it – $12,000 annually for “in-district expenses,” despite a state law requiring counties to fund delegation offices for local lawmakers.

When “subsistence” payments for food and lodging, mileage and other expenses are included, lawmakers cost taxpayers $32,000 per year on average, The Nerve’s series found.

Asked why in-district and other payments to lawmakers were not included in his bill, Brown said last week, “It’s a very simple bill; I didn’t think that far into it.”

Last week, Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, introduced a resolution (S. 509) that would reduce senators’ annual in-district payment by $1,000.

Brown’s other bill (H. 3505) affecting state agency heads would not apply to Haley, Lt. Gov. Ken Ard or any of the other seven elected statewide officials: the attorney general, adjutant general, comptroller general, treasurer, secretary of state, superintendent of education and agriculture commissioner.

By law, their salaries cannot be reduced or increased during the period for which they have been elected. State judges’ salaries also cannot be reduced during their terms.

But Brown’s bill would apply to all agency heads, regardless of whether they were a member of the governor’s Cabinet.

The Agency Head Salary Commission last week set salaries for three of Haley’s Cabinet members – Department of Commerce Director Bobby Hitt, Health and Human Services Director Tony Keck, and Catherine Templeton, the Labor, Licensing and Regulation chief.

Assuming the remainder of Haley’s nominees are confirmed by the Senate and that, as with Hitt, Keck and Templeton, their salaries remain the same as their predecessors’, below is a list of their annual salaries, followed by their adjusted salaries in parentheses under Brown’s bill:

  • Robert St. Onge,* Transportation: $146,000, ($109,500);
  • Reggie Lloyd,** State Law Enforcement Division: $145,000, ($108,750);
  • Bill Byars, Corrections: $144,746, ($108,559);
  • Bobby Hitt, Commerce: $144,746, ($108,559);
  • Lillian Koller, Social Services: $144,746, ($108,559);
  • Tony Keck, Health and Human Services, $144,746, ($108,559);
  • Mark Keel,** Public Safety: $143,000, ($107,250);
  • John Finan,** Employment and Workforce: $134,227, ($100,670);
  • James Etter, Revenue, $130,063, ($97,547);
  • Catherine Templeton, Labor, Licensing and Regulation: $116,797, ($87,597);
  • Margaret Barber, Juvenile Justice: $114,942, ($86,206);
  • Duane Parrish, Parks, Recreation and Tourism: $112,504, ($84,378);
  • David Black, Insurance: $112,407, ($84,305);
  • Bob Toomey, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services: $112,082, ($84,061);
  • Kevin Shwedo, Motor Vehicles: $110,504, ($82,878); and
  • Kela Thomas, Probation, Parole and Pardon Services: $92,917, ($69,687).

*Salary information from Budget and Control Board, state salary database

**Appointed before Haley became governor.

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