State Agencies Grow Despite Budget Cuts

September 15, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveAs S.C. lawmakers were slashing about $1.6 billion from the general fund budget over the past two fiscal years, some state agencies were adding staff, a review by The Nerve found.

S.C. Budget and Control Board records show that 18 of 78 agencies added at least one employee to their staffs from July 1, 2008, through the end of last fiscal year – June 30, though several agencies disputed the reported increase when contacted last week by The Nerve.

The 10 agencies with the biggest increases in their number of filled positions were, according to BCB records:

  • Coastal Carolina University – 2008: 805 employees; 2010: 921 employees; change: 116
  • S.C. Department of Vocational Rehabilitation – 2008: 1,035; 2010: 1,109; change: 74
  • S.C. Department of Revenue – 2008: 626; 2010: 660; change: 34
  • College of Charleston – 2008: 1,238; 2010 – 1,267; change: 29
  • S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense – 2008: 39; 2010: 64; change: 25
  • S.C. Commission on Higher Education – 2008: 22; 2010: 36; change: 34
  • Winthrop University – 2008: 797; 2010: 810; change: 13
  • Medical University of South Carolina – 2008: 2,994; 2010: 3,006; change: 12
  • S.C. Attorney General’s Office – 2008: 153; 2010: 161; change: 8
  • Lander University – 2008: 323; 2010: 331; change: 8

All total, the 18 agencies added 358 employees – mostly full-time workers – BCB records show. Five agencies showed no change during the period, while the majority – 55 – recorded decreases.

The five agencies with the reported biggest numerical drops during the two-year period were the S.C. Department of Mental Health (590), the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (546), the S.C. Department of Social Services (364), Clemson University (294) and the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (253).

Statewide, the number of filled positions in the 78 agencies dropped by 3,626, or 6 percent, to 60,746 from 64,372, according to BCB records. Most of the cuts were through attrition; the number of state employees laid off last fiscal year, for example, totaled 192, with the largest number – 42 – coming from the Department of Social Services, records show.

The BCB records do not include data from certain agencies not under the control of BCB’s Office of Human Resources, such as the Legislature and the Lottery Commission, said BCB spokesman Mike Sponhour.

The Nerve in April did an initial agency employment study, though that analysis was limited to the changes from the start of last fiscal year, and BCB records provided then included college branch campuses and divisions within certain state agencies.

From the start of fiscal year 2009 to the start of this fiscal year, state lawmakers cut the general fund budget from $6.7 billion to $5.1 billion, a decrease of $1.6 billion, or 24 percent.

However, the state’s total budget, which includes federal and “other” funds, such as fees, fines and tuition, increased from about $20.9 billion to $21.1 billion, an increase of about 1.4 percent.

Of the five colleges or universities among the top 10 agencies with the biggest staff gains since the start of fiscal year 2009, all but one – Lander University – showed increases in their total ratified budgets, The Nerve’s review found.

All five institutions increased their tuition for in-state undergraduate students during the period, records show.

Contacted last week by The Nerve, spokespersons for the state agencies showing the biggest jumps in staffing offered varying reasons and justifications for the increases.

Coastal Carolina spokeswoman Martha Hunn said the number of new positions created during the two-year period was 83, the majority of those (45) being full-time faculty positions.

The balance of the 116 added positions listed in BCB records were temporary positions converted to full-time positions and “replacement positions, some of which remained vacant from prior years,” she said.

“Those full-time faculty positions were added to meet the needs of CCU’s growing student enrollment and to increase the quality of the academic programs we offer, and therefore increase retention of students,” Hunn said in a written response, noting that fall enrollment has grown from 7,573 students in 2008 to a projected 8,058 students this year, an increase of about 6.5 percent.

The added staff positions were “funded by tuition, not state appropriations,” Hunn said.

Tuition and required fees for in-state undergraduate students at the Conway university rose about 3.5 percent last school year compared to the previous year; this year’s tuition was set at $9,390, a jump of about 8.6 percent from the 2008-09 school year, state records show.

Over the past two fiscal years, CCU’s total ratified budget increased to about $146 million from about $134 million, a jump of about 9 percent, though its general fund budget was slashed by more than $7 million, or nearly 44 percent, from about $16 million to $9 million.

At the S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense, Assistant Director Lisa Campbell in a written response toThe Nerve said state lawmakers in 2007 created 32 new positions in the agency with the start of a statewide public defender system.

The following year, a death penalty trial division was created, with five positions allocated for that office, though no additional state funding was provided for that, she said.

“Our division is currently representing/assisting in nine death penalty cases,” Campbell said. “By not having to pay the ‘market rate’ for attorneys from the private bar to represent these defendants, we are considerably reducing the cost of these trials.”

Department of Revenue spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell said the General Assembly during the period gave her agency $2.2 million to hire 60 full-time employees to collect $48 million in new taxes.

That state money was well spent, she contended.

“The department exceeded that goal by actually collecting $106 million,” she said in a written response.

Several agencies in The Nerve’s top-10 list disputed their rankings. College of Charleston spokesman Mike Robertson, for example, said that since July 1, 2008, 50 employees were moved from temporary to permanent status “in accordance with state regulations.”

“The conversion of some employees from temporary to permanent status wrongly suggests the addition of new employees, when in fact those employees had been with the college for some time,” he said in a written response.

The college’s total budget increased by more than $9 million since the start of fiscal year 2009 to $207 million for the start of this fiscal year, though its general fund budget was cut by more than $14 million over the same period.

Tuition and required fees for in-state undergraduate students increased by 7 percent from the 2008-09 school year to last school year, and another 14.8 percent for the start of this year, state records show.

Like the College of Charleston, the S.C. Commission on Higher Education also contested the BCB’s records.

Commission spokesman Garrison Walters told The Nerve last week that his agency has “not experienced a growth in employees since January 2008, and the sizeable cuts we have received since 2008 have not enabled us to hire.”

“In fact, we’ve actually experienced a net loss of 20 people since January 2008,” he said in a written response.

Walters dismissed the BCB’s numbers as “an artifact in our reporting of FTEs (full-time equivalent employees) that is related to a reclassification of existing personnel and not growth in staffing.”

Walters did not immediately respond to a follow-up written request by The Nerve for current staffing figures.

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