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ANDY BRACK: Big pay hikes in Columbia leave a stench
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ANDY BRACK: Big pay hikes in Columbia leave a stench

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South Carolina’s governor earns $106,078 a year, making him the 3,248th*-highest paid state employee as of April.

*(Of course there’s a caveat in South Carolina. The S.C. Department of Administration’s salary search portal of the 23,328 state employees who earn more than $50,000 does not include people who work at several agencies, such as the legislature, the courts, Santee Cooper and the S.C. State Ports Authority. And we know some of those folks earn money by the bucket.)

Among those who earn far more than Gov. Henry McMaster, who is simply designated as an “agency head,” are football coaches, university administrators, college professors and hundreds of other agency leaders. Even in the governor’s office, four people are paid more than the statewide elected head of the executive branch, including the governor’s chief of staff ($193,545), chief legal counsel ($139, 528), deputy chief of staff ($128,484) and senior education adviser ($120,000).

This week, we learned five agency heads who already earned far more than the average state employee and average family in South Carolina got raises that can best be described as obscene. These agency directors included:

S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff executive director Nanette Edwards, who now earns $265,000 a year (a 48% raise).

S.C. Department of Administration executive director Marcia Adams, $284,679 (a 27% raise).

S.C. Department of Corrections director Bryan Stirling, $250,000 (a 25% raise).

State Fiscal Accountability Authority executive director Grant Gillespie, $245,000 (a 22% raise).

S.C. Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall, $298,000 (a 19% raise). A little over a year ago, Hall got a 32% raise, according to news reports.

“Unfortunately we have been behind the curve on salaries in South Carolina,” House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, a Republican from Rock Hill, told a reporter. “It’s difficult to hire and retain talent.”

Mercy. I bet that for the amount of the unadjusted salaries, the state could find more than enough highly qualified alternative leaders who would jump at the jobs.

The folks who voted for the raise are on the state Agency Head Salary Commission, a panel made of four House members, four senators and three people appointed by the governor. The panel includes three Democratic legislators and five Republicans.

The only person voting against the raises was Senate President Harvey Peeler, a Republican from Gaffney, who suggested raises could be spread out over three years, as the increases were more than the annual pay of some employees.

“It’s not the people,” Peeler said. “We have great people. They’ve earned their pay, but it’s just the numbers. It’s hard for me to justify this time.”

He’s right. In a time when the vast majority of state employees earn less than $50,000 and who get small raises every few years, it’s hard to feel comfortable about any individual five-figure raise. Furthermore, it just doesn’t look good. After state employees busted their butts during the pandemic, these raises seem like a slap in the face.

The agency head pay hikes predictably raised the ire of the state Democratic Party, with Chairman Trav Robertson one day calling for McMaster to explain why his appointees deserved big raises. The next day, Robertson turned it up a notch, calling on the governor to direct them to refuse the pay increases. Like that will happen.

He also called on the state to double the minimum wage paid to many state workers to $15 per hour: “The work our state employees do is imperative to the success and health of our state, these administrators included, but to have their pay raised so dramatically while many of their subordinates make poverty wages is bad form and stinks of corruption.”

He’s right about one thing: The whole mess reeks.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to feedback@statehousereport.com.

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