Raises continue to flow to well-paid House, Senate staffers

November 5, 2021

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

Another year, another round of raises for higher-paid S.C. House and Senate staffers.

The Nerve’s review of chamber records provided under the state Freedom of Information Act show that over the past year, 76 House staffers making at least $50,000 received raises ranging from $1,602 to $34,857. The median increase, which represents the midway point on the salary list, was $4,713.

The pay hikes ranged from 3% to nearly 53%, with 34 employees getting raises of more than 7%.

On the Senate side, 64 staffers who make at least 50,000 received raises ranging from $1,275 to $36,450, with $3,833 as the median increase. The pay hikes ranged from 2.5% – the base raise for state employees this fiscal year – to more than 31%, with 16 employees getting increases of at least 10%.

Over the past year, the number of workers in the $50,000-plus club increased by eight in the House to 86 and by three in the Senate to 76, The Nerve’s review found. Twenty-four House employees and 28 Senate staffers make at least $100,000 annually, records show.

House clerk Charles Reid – that chamber’s top administrator – saw his salary jump by $15,380, or 7.25%, to $227,630. Jeff Gossett, his Senate counterpart, received a $5,625, or 2.5%, raise, bringing his salary to $230,625. The Nerve revealed in November 2020 that Gossett had received a $14,864, or 7%, pay hike from the previous year, though pay for Reid and most other higher-paid House employees had remained the same.

Still, those legislative staffers earn more than many South Carolinians. The state’s per-capita income as of last December was $45,438, according to the S.C. Department of Revenue.

Unlike most other state agencies, neither the House nor Senate chamber provides information to the online state salary database, maintained by the S.C. Department of Administration.

Lawmakers every year renew a state budget proviso giving House speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and Senate president Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, the authority to determine the “amount necessary for compensation” for House and Senate employees from appropriated funds for “Employee Pay Increases.”

Both the 124-member House and 46-member Senate are flush with money. The House started this fiscal year on July 1 with a $22.7 million general-fund surplus, which represents 90% of its total $25.2 million budget, while the Senate had a $3.4 million reserve, which represents 15% of its $22.6 million budget.

Following are the 10 top-paid House staffers, with the percentages of their pay hikes in parentheses, according to chamber records:

  • Charles Reid, clerk: $227,630 (7.25%)
  • Patrick Dennis, general counsel and chief of staff to the speaker: $227,115 (7.13%)
  • Daniel Boan, Ways and Means chief of staff and general counsel: $178.035 (7.12%)
  • Emma Dean, Judiciary chief legal counsel: $165,006 (7.15%)
  • Steven Davidson, Labor, Commerce and Industry chief counsel: $161,710 (7.09%)
  • Pierce McNair, Education and Public Works research director: $159,650 (7.15%)
  • Donald Hottel, assistant clerk in charge of research: $152,862 (5.06%)
  • Jennifer Dobson, Legislative Oversight research director: $137,144 (7.14%)
  • Kate Turner, Ways and Means budget director: $137,144 (7.14%)
  • Mitchell Dorman, sergeant-at-arms: $123,188 (7.12%)

The largest raise among House employees over the past year went to Sherry Moore, a research analyst, who received a $34,857, or 52.8%, hike, bringing her salary to $100,857, The Nerve’s review found.

Below are the 10 top-paid Senate staffers, with the percentages of their raises in parentheses, according to chamber records:

  • Jeff Gossett, clerk, “Parliamentarian,” research director: $230,625 (2.5%)
  • Michael Shealy, Finance budget director: $180,585 (2.5%)
  • Ken Moffitt, assistant clerk, assistant research director: $179,375 (2.5%)
  • John Hazzard, assistant “Parliamentarian,” counsel to Senate president: $173,887 (2.5%)
  • Heather Anderson, Judiciary staff attorney: $157,594 (5.06%)
  • Quentin Hawkins, Finance chief of staff: $153,750 (31.07%)
  • Andy Fiffick, Judiciary chief of staff: $153,750 (2.5%)
  • Grant Gibson, Finance assistant research director: $138,375 (10.16%)
  • Rick Harmon, Joint Bond Review Committee research director: $138,375 (10.93%)
  • Martha Casto: chief of staff to Senate president: $135,915 (6.6%)

Among Senate staffers, Hawkins, the chief of staff for the Senate Finance Committee, received the largest raise from a year ago – a $36,450, or 31.07% hike, The Nerve’s review found. His job title last year was “Special Assistant to Pro Tem Emeritus,” Senate records show.

Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who is the longtime Finance Committee chairman, holds the title of Senate “President Pro Tempore Emeritus,” according to the Legislature’s website. He also chairs the state Joint Bond Review Committee and the S.C. Agency Head Salary Commission.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). 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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