COLUMBIA --- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will pay her chief of staff $125,000 a year, a salary that eclipses her own pay and is $27,000 more than former Gov. Mark Sanford paid his chief of staff, according to records obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
Tim Pearson, the Republican governor's chief of staff, is credited with managing her come-from-behind campaign that vaulted her past three other GOP contenders and a Democratic state senator. Trey Walker, a former political adviser, will make $122,775 as deputy chief of staff for communications and legislative affairs.
Haley, who took the oath of office Wednesday, justified $1.1 million in salaries in part because the overall expenses of her office are going down.
"When we came in, if you notice, we reduced the entire structure of the governor's office," Haley said. "It's more efficient than what I had seen."
Sixteen of her staff members make more $40,000 or more a year.
Democrats seized quickly on the image of big paychecks in the midst of layoffs, a projected $829 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year and programs being cut that deliver health care services to the elderly, disabled and poor.
"The state's budget crisis doesn't appear to be affecting Haley's office," said Phil Bailey, the spokesman for the Senate's Democratic Caucus.
House Minority Leader Harry Ott said he wouldn't too harshly criticize Haley before seeing all that she's spending on salaries. But the timing is bad as the state ends funding for services such as hospice care that allows people to die at home instead of hospitals.
"She needs to understand that perception is reality," said Ott, a St. Matthews Democrat. "And the perception of these $125,000 salaries is of the good ol' network she campaigned against."
Haley also said she will end a practice of previous governors who borrowed staff from other agencies to do work for them. That process, called "detailing," allowed governors to spread the cost of running their offices into other agencies' budgets.
Haley's salary is set by law and is unchanged from the $106,078 Sanford made. After taking office in 2003, Sanford paid his chief of staff $93,000. Sanford's last chief of staff, Scott English, left that job Tuesday and was paid a salary of $98,000.
Rob Godfrey, Haley's spokesman and a former campaign staffer, is being paid $65,000.