WIS Investigation: Governor, treasurer grew staff, salaries - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

WIS Investigation: Governor, treasurer grew staff, salaries since January

By Jody Barr - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A month-long WIS News 10 investigation of state agency positions and salaries uncovered six-figure increases in the governor's and treasurer's offices during the same period when 1,766 state jobs were slashed.

In March, WIS filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records showing a snapshot of staffing levels and salaries for several constitutional offices. The dates asked for were March 29, 2010, and March 29, 2011.

WIS asked for names, positions and salaries for workers making at least $50,000 a year and above. A few days later, the Budget and Control Board, the agency responsible for tracking the state's money, released spreadsheets with the requested public records.

Records show salaries for the governor's highest-paid staffers under Nikki Haley have grown by $247,101 when compared with former Governor Mark Sanford's records. The records show Sanford's highest paid staffer was himself, at $106,078.

Haley's highest-paid staffer is her chief of staff, Tim Pearson, who rakes in $125,000 a year. Pearson also ran Haley's gubernatorial campaign.

Pearson isn't not the only Haley campaign worker to follow her into the governor's office. Haley's campaign consultant, Trey Walker, is also now on the state payroll as Haley's deputy chief of staff, earning $122,000 a year.

Haley and her spokesman, Rob Godfrey, have denied several requests for interviews to defend the increases our investigation uncovered. Late Thursday, however, Walker agreed to explain the governor's salary increases on camera.

"It's the difference in looking at the glass half-empty or half-full," said Walker. The governor's records show a slight decrease in overall payroll over Sanford's entire staff, but when compared to Sanford's highest-paid employees, Haley's highest-paid employees' salaries grew by $247,101.

"She's asked them to do, in many cases, two and three jobs that other administrations had done in the past," explained Walker. "So what she's asking people to do is to do more, and she's getting a better bang for her buck out of it. The results show that."

"This is why people don't like and don't trust politicians," responded House Minority leader and House Ways and Means Committee member Harry Ott after seeing WIS' research. Ott calls the governor's hires "a shining example of good-old-boy politics."

"The height of hypocrisy is, we give $125,000 job to somebody who works on our campaign and at the same time, we cut services to handicapped children," Ott continued. "Now, I ask the governor, where's the reality? Where does that match up to your campaign promises?"

We found the same trend in the treasurer's office, uncovering staff and salary increases since Treasurer Curtis Loftis took office in January. Salary records show Loftis added two new positions to his highest-paid staff at a total salary increase of $143,553.

Former Treasurer Converse Chellis lost his job to Loftis in November. Chellis cut the treasurer's budget by $100,000 during his first month in office. "It was pretty important to show that we can reduce some of the cost in government," Chellis told WIS. "I realized that we were keeping $100,000 or more dollars that we did not need to spend, and so the first thing I did is return $100,000 to the state's general fund."

Chellis said he never added a single job to the office. Loftis said his office grew because of the transition in January, "What happened, when I came in I brought people with me, and then people left, so as of next week, we're exactly even," defended Loftis.

Budget records show Loftis created a public information officer position and a chief-of-staff position that did not exist under Chellis. The chief of staff job went to Bill Leidinger at $117,000 a year.

Secretary of State records show that Leidinger's son, Steven P. Leidinger, is Loftis' business partner. The pair own Home Pest Control in Cayce.

We asked Loftis the hire was an example of inside politics. "Maybe you should ask George Bush," said Loftis. "George Bush hired him to be the assistant Secretary of Education in Washington, DC. Before that, he ran a $3.5 billion county with 13 employees called Fairfax, VA; the most impressive resume in state government. You can't hook me with that."

"When you get into office, you find that they've hired their friends," countered Ott. "If you're a campaign contributor, you get a high paying job. Not only that, they have increased the budget in both their offices. The governor talks about wanting to give report cards, well I give her a failure on transparency and ending the good-old-boy system" Ott said.

Budget and Control Board records show that many of the cuts to state government jobs happened in agencies providing social services, health care and road maintenance. Cuts included 364 jobs inside the state Department of Social Services, 165 in the Department of Mental Health and 334 jobs cut at the Department of Transportation. State workers were also furloughed during the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

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