June 12, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Lawmakers want more control over agency head pay hikes



Lawmakers just can’t resist trying to exert more power over another branch of government.

Reps. John King, D-York; Annie McDaniel, D-Fairfield; and Wendy Brawley, D-Richland, prefiled a bill last week that would require separate majorities in the 124-member House and 46-member Senate to give final approval to any pay raises for state agency heads recommended by a legislatively controlled committee.

The Agency Head Salary Commission (AHSC), which includes eight lawmakers, approves state salaries for the heads of at least 90 agencies, including public colleges, according to the State Fiscal Accountability Authority (SFAA), an agency that provides administrative support to the AHSC.

The AHSC has doled out some hefty raises in recent years. For example, the AHSC earlier this year, as The Nerve reported in July, gave five-figure pay increases to a group of agency heads, including Department of Transportation secretary Christy Hall, whose salary jumped by $46,768 to $298,000 – which was on top of a $60,288 hike that the commission gave her last year.

Under state law, the chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees each appoint four members of the 11-member AHSC. The governor appoints the other three members.

Longtime Senate Finance Committee chairman, Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who also was the AHSC chairman, died last week at the age of 90. It’s unclear who in the near future will chair the AHSC, which includes Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, and Senate president Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee.

As required by the S.C. Constitution, Peeler on Tuesday called for a special election to fill Leatherman’s Senate seat, set under state law for March 29.

Smith was the primary sponsor of a bill that became law in May requiring that the salaries of six statewide elected officials – attorney general, comptroller general, state treasurer, secretary of state, superintendent of education and agriculture commissioner – be recommended by the AHSC to the Legislature starting next fiscal year.

The House bill prefiled last week likely will be referred to the Ways and Means Committee. King, the bill’s primary sponsor, didn’t respond Tuesday to a written request from The Nerve seeking comment.

Asked Monday about whether the AHSC had approved any raises since its last action on July 1, an SFAA staffer said The Nerve’s written questions would be treated as a formal request under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, which allows the agency to wait 10 business days to respond.

The highest-paid agency head listed in the state salary database, which is maintained by the S.C. Department of Administration, is Clemson University president Jim Clements, whose state salary is $318,781, though it’s only about a third of his overall compensation. The Nerve last month reported that the university’s governing board gave Clements a five-year contract extension and an $86,200 raise through the university’s private fundraising arm, bringing his total annual salary to nearly $1 million.

As The Nerve has previously reported, the state salary database doesn’t include information for 17 agencies or divisions, including, for example, state-owned utility Santee Cooper, the Ports Authority, Judicial Department, and the House and Senate chambers.

The Nerve last week revealed that 76 House employees making at least $50,000 received raises over the past year ranging from 3% to nearly 53%, while 64 Senate workers in the $50,000-plus club got pay hikes ranging from 2.5% to more than 31%, with Senate clerk Jeff Gossett and House clerk Charles Reid as the top-paid staffers at $230,625 and $227,630, respectively.

The Nerve’s latest review of the state salary database found that as of Sept. 30, 71 agency heads were making annual salaries ranging from $82,026 for Katie Harrison, executive director of the Higher Education Tuition Grants Commission, to $318,781 for Clements. The average annual state salary for agency heads was $153,740.

In comparison, the state’s per-capita income as of March was $47,502, according to the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.

Following are the agency heads receiving an annual salary of at least $200,000 as of Sept. 30, according to the state salary database:

  • Jim Clements, Clemson University: $318,781
  • Christy Hall, Department of Transportation: $298,000
  • Marcia Adams, Department of Administration: $284,679
  • Robert Kerr, Department of Health and Human Services: $275,000
  • Tim Hardee, S.C. Technical College System: $259,570
  • Harry Lightsey, Department of Commerce: $252,000
  • Kenneth Rogers, Department of Mental Health: $250,000
  • Bryan Stirling, Department of Corrections: $250,000
  • Edward Simmer, Department of Health and Environmental Control: $249,000
  • Grant Gillespie, State Fiscal Accountability Authority: $245,000
  • Richard Cosentino, Lander University: $215,511
  • Peggy Boykin, Public Employee Benefit Authority: $209,100
  • Rusty Monhollon, Commission on Higher Education: $204,111

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.

Nerve stories are free to reprint and repost with permission by and credit to The Nerve.


We need your help to continue our mission of holding government officials accountable! As part of the South Carolina Policy Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, we rely on donations to operate. Please consider giving today so we can keep bringing accountability to government. It’s your power, and it’s time to take it back!
The Nerve