Six-figure House, Senate staff club growing bigger

December 17, 2019

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

Since last year, the permanent workforce in the S.C. House and Senate has grown – as well as the number of legislative staffers in the six-figure salary club, records released to The Nerve show.

The 124-member House employed 95 staffers as of Dec. 2, up from 91 as of mid-October 2018, while the 46-member Senate – though well less than half the size of the House – had 114 staffers to start the month, compared to 110 last year.

The number of staffers in the House and Senate earning at least $100,000 annually totals 40, up from 27 last year. The highest-paid employee is the House’s top administrator – acting House clerk Charles Reid, who makes $212,250. Reid was the longtime House clerk before leaving the position earlier this year to become president of the private South Carolina Business & Industry Political Education Committee, though he recently returned to his former job.

Patrick Dennis, an attorney who was the House clerk after Reid left and now is the House’s “general counsel,” is being paid $212,000, House records show. The third-highest paid staffer in either chamber is Senate clerk Jeff Gossett – that chamber’s top administrator – who makes $210,136, according to Senate records.

In comparison, as of May 2018, the average annual salary for chief executives in South Carolina was $182,760, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor estimates. The average annual wage last year for all occupations in the state was $43,210.

The House employs 81 staffers earning at least $50,000 annually, up from 75 last year, while the Senate has 72 workers in the $50,000-plus group, up from 68 in 2018, chamber records show.

Under a state budget proviso, House speaker Jay Lucas and Senate president Harvey Peeler “shall determine the amount necessary for compensation of the employees of the House and Senate” from “funds appropriated for Employee Pay Increases.”

Besides permanent, full-time employees, the chambers also use college students as part-time pages. An annually renewed budget proviso, for example, allows the House to have up to 144 pages this fiscal year to be “available for any necessary service” to the chamber.

Unlike most other state agencies, neither the House nor Senate provides information to the online state salary database, maintained by the S.C. Department of Administration. Over the years, The Nerve has obtained employee and salary lists for the chambers after submitting state Freedom of Information Act requests.

And, as The Nerve has pointed out, including a story last month, the chambers routinely have ignored a longstanding state law requiring all state agencies to annually file budget requests with the governor by Nov. 1.

Asked why the chambers have been exempt from the reporting requirement, a Department of Administration spokeswoman recently said only that all budget requests received by the state Executive Budget Office for fiscal year 2021, which starts next July 1, are “posted on our website.”

The chambers’ total annual budgets continue to grow each year, state budget records show. The House’s budget this fiscal year is $22.7 million, including a $250,000 increase, while the Senate’s budget is $16.3 million, including separate hikes of $250,000 and $1.25 million.

Gossett did not respond to several written requests earlier this year for details on the $1.25 million increase, or more recently, a request for specifics on the chamber’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget. House attorney Richard Pearce last month informed The Nerve after an open-records request that the chamber had “no documents” related to next fiscal year’s proposed chamber budget.

The chambers’ budgets don’t include massive surpluses that are carried over every year. As of June 30, the House had general and “other” fund reserves of $23.3 million – more than its current total budget – and $247,024, respectively. The Senate’s general and “other” fund surpluses were $5.2 million and $726,713, respectively, records show.

Following are the top-10 earners in the House; some of the job titles appear to be similar to each other, House records show:

  • Charles Reid, acting clerk: $212,250
  • Patrick Dennis, general counsel: $212,000
  • Daniel Boan, chief of staff and legal counsel: $166,200
  • Emma Dean, chief counsel: $154,000
  • Steven Davidson, chief legal counsel: $151,000
  • Pierce McNair, director of research: $149,000
  • Donald Hottel, assistant clerk in charge of House research: $145,500
  • Rena Grant, director of legislation: $137,500
  • Jennifer Dobson, research director: $128,000
  • Kate Turner, budget director: $128,000

Following are the top-10 earners in the Senate, according to Senate records:

  • Jeff Gossett, clerk, “Parliamentarian and “Director of Senate Research”: $210,136
  • Michael Shealy, budget director, Finance Committee: $176,181
  • John Hazzard, assistant “Parliamentarian/Counsel to the President”: $169,646
  • Ken Moffitt, assistant clerk and assistant Senate research director: $156,392
  • Angie Willis, assistant research director for budget development: $143,056
  • Andy Fiffick, research director/chief of staff, Judiciary Committee: $137,700
  • Martha Casto, chief of staff, “Office of the President”: $127,500
  • Grant Gibson, assistant research director for tax policy, Finance Committee: $125,609
  • Rick Harmon, research director, Joint Bond Review Committee (JBRC): $124,745
  • Brenda Hart, senior budget analyst, Finance Committee: $122,400

Four of the top-10 earners in Senate work for committees – Senate Finance and the JBRC – headed by longtime Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who has the title, “Senate President Pro Tempore Emeritus.”

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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