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A legislatively controlled committee has given five-figure pay hikes to a group of state agency heads, and a new law empowers the panel to recommend raises next fiscal year for certain statewide elected officials.

The Agency Head Salary Commission (AHSC) on Thursday– the start of the new fiscal year – approved the following annual salaries for agency heads, with the amount and percentage of the raises in parentheses, according to commission and Department of Administration records:

In addition, the commission set newly confirmed Commerce secretary Harry Lightsey’s annual salary at $252,000. His predecessor, Bobby Hitt, who retired, was making $199,857 as of April 9, according to an online database of state workers earning at least $50,000 yearly.

Of the 23,328 state workers with annual salaries of $50,000 or more as of April 9, 455 were making at least $200,000, according to the database, which is maintained by the Department of Administration.

As The Nerve previously has revealed, though, the database doesn’t include salary information for 17 state agencies or divisions, including the S.C. House and Senate chambers, and state-owned utility Santee Cooper. For example, Santee Cooper president and CEO Mark Bonsall’s salary this year is $1.1 million, which doesn’t include other benefits, such as the eligibility to receive a maximum $250,000 performance bonus, a utility spokeswoman told The Nerve last month.

In comparison, South Carolina’s per-capita income as of December was $45,438, state Department of Revenue records show – lower than all but one of the raises approved last week for the state agency heads.

The 11-member AHSC, chaired by Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, approves salaries for the heads of at least 90 state agencies or divisions, according to its website. Under state law, the Senate Finance Committee chairman – currently Leatherman – and the House Ways and Means Committee chairman – currently Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter – each appoint four commission members. The governor appoints the other three members.

Besides Smith and Leatherman, other lawmakers on the AHSC include Sens. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee; Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, who is the Senate president; and John Scott, D-Richland; and Reps. Leon Howard, D-Richland; Gary Simrill, R-York; and David Weeks, D-Sumter.

The AHSC administratively is part of the State Fiscal Accountability Authority, a state agency governed by a five-member panel made up of Gov. Henry McMaster, who is the panel chairman; state treasurer Curtis Loftis; comptroller general Richard Eckstrom; Leatherman; and Smith.

The agencies under the AHSC’s jurisdiction include public colleges, though approved salaries for college presidents don’t represent their total compensation. For example, Clemson University president James Clements’ state salary as of April 9 was $318,781, though his total compensation last year was $965,677, including $607,381 in university foundation income and other taxable benefits, according to his income-disclosure statement filed with the State Ethics Commission in March.

The AHSC’s action last week to increase DOT secretary Hall’s salary by nearly 19% was on top of a $60,288, or nearly 32%, hike that the commission gave her in February 2020, as The Nerve reported then.

The Nerve has repeatedly pointed out the relatively slow pace of major repairs to the state’s bad roads and bridges during Hall’s tenure, financed with a 12-cent-per-gallon hike in the state gasoline tax over six years, plus increases in other vehicle taxes and fees approved by lawmakers in 2017.

The 48% pay hike approved by the AHSC for ORS director Edwards comes with new oversight responsibilities involving Santee Cooper and the coordination of statewide broadband expansion, as approved by lawmakers this year.

In December, The Nerve revealed, based on S.C. Freedom of Information Act requests, the salaries of top-paid employees of ORS and three other state agencies not listed in the online state salary database. The Legislature in a state budget proviso for this fiscal year gave the AHSC the authority to set Edwards’ salary.

Under a House bill, the primary sponsor of which was Smith and which became law in May, the salaries of six statewide elected officials – attorney general, comptroller general, state treasurer, secretary of state, superintendent of education and agriculture commissioner – along with the state adjutant general, must be based on recommendations by the AHSC to the Legislature starting in fiscal 2022-23.

The new law also requires that the AHSC every four years recommend a salary range for those officials, based on their job duties and responsibilities, as well as on the pay of “other state constitutional officers in other states.”

The six statewide elected positions currently pay $92,007 annually, while S.C. adjutant general Van McCarty was making $168,059 as of April 9, according to the state salary database.

The Nerve in February revealed that under a bill sponsored by Smith and Rep. Chris Murphy, R-Dorchester, attorney general Alan Wilson would be allowed to move from the retirement system covering general state employees to the retirement system covering judges and solicitors, which pays the highest average annual benefits among the state’s five retirement systems.

McMaster’s annual salary, which is set by the Legislature, is $106,078.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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