Originally created 04/27/97

Aides get top salaries



COLUMBIA - While Gov. David Beasley's philosophy has been to put government on a diet during his first 2 1/2 years in office, one area has put on weight - the salaries of his top aides.

It can be traced to the Republican governor's taking office on Jan. 11, 1995. At that moment, he raised the salaries of his top staff 22 percent. Some aides earned more than 40 percent more than what their counterparts did under ex-Gov. Carroll Campbell just days before.

That same year, he told most agencies to cut their budgets by 5 percent across the board.

Mr. Beasley also kept some aides' salaries off his books by keeping them on other agencies' payrolls.

Mr. Beasley's chief of staff said the governor was not available to answer questions, but offered a simple explanation: The governor's office has more to do under the new Cabinet form of government that runs the state, and if everyone's on the same team, who pays the salaries isn't as important.

"It is so fundamentally different," said Chief of Staff Will McCain, who also was a lower-ranking aide to Mr. Campbell. "We have far more responsibilities now than previously, because of the Cabinet."

The Associated Press analyzed salaries in the governor's office for the past six years. The main comparison is between 1991, the last year Mr. Campbell had a full staff, and Mr. Beasley's first year in office. In later years, Mr. Campbell had fewer staff earning less as people left and positions were unfilled or combined.

Since 1995, Mr. Beasley's top aides have received raises of 2 percent a year, beyond any promotions.

Some key points:

  • Since 1991, salaries for the top six positions - the chief of staff and those who oversee legal matters, legislation, communications, finance and the media - have grown 25 percent. This fiscal year, the budget includes $531,700 to pay them. That outstrips the 14 percent average increase for all state workers and the 18 percent inflation rate in the Southeast over the same time.
  • The governor's office budget has increased 25 percent since 1991 to $1.6 million this year, despite absorbing the 5 percent cut Mr. Beasley ordered for agencies under his control. It is up almost 13 percent since the 1994 cut.
  • Mr. Beasley began the year with five top aides earning more than $90,000 a year - more than the governors of 25 states. Mr. Beasley makes $106,078.
  • Two of his aides - his legislative liaison and his communications director - received more than 40 percent above what their Campbell administration counterparts got. The liaison, Deputy Chief of Staff Howell Clyborne, left in February and has not been replaced.
  • The largest increase went to Mr. Beasley's press secretary and later communications director, Ginny Wolfe.

    She started at $65,000, about 45 percent more than Mr. Campbell's press secretary, Tucker Eskew. He earned between $42,000 and $46,000 in 1991 - state law only requires that salary ranges be provided for those positions paying less than $50,000 a year.

    When Ms. Wolfe became communications director less than a year later, she got a 38 percent raise to $90,000. When Mr. Eskew became communications director late in Mr. Campbell's term, his raise was about 29 percent, to $59,160, and he kept the job of press secretary as well.

    The woman who replaced Ms. Wolfe as press aide, Robyn Zimmerman, wasn't even on Mr. Beasley's payroll. Her $62,040 salary was carried by the Corrections Department, where she worked before she joined Mr. Beasley's staff.

    Mr. McCain said Ms. Zimmerman was on loan, and her salary would have been covered by Mr. Beasley's office if she had remained on the governor's staff.

    Ms. Zimmerman left late last year for the Department of Juvenile Justice. Her replacement, Gary Karr, was hired at $67,600, an almost 9 percent increase. His salary comes from Mr. Beasley's budget.

    While the Corrections Department continued to pay Ms. Zimmerman's salary, Juvenile Justice picked up the about 90 percent of the $82,728 tab for Carol Stewart, Mr. Beasley's education adviser. At least two other staffers, their salaries paid by the State Law Enforcement Division and the Probations Department, often work with the governor's staff during the legislative session.

    It's an efficient way to run the new Cabinet form of government, Mr. McCain said.

    "It's like a partnership deal; we're all working for the same goal. They work very closely with us because they're Cabinet," he said.

    Mr. McCain, whose salary of $96,900 is about 10 percent more than what his counterpart was paid in 1991, looks to other numbers - the dozen agencies the governor's office oversees, many added in the 1993 restructuring, and about 200 additional staff added to the governor's budget.

    But state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, looks at the salaries and says, "That's growing government,"

    Republicans may promise to shrink government, "but it's the state employees at the bottom rung who are the ones that do the work," she said.

    From Republicans like state Rep. Doug Smith of Spartanburg, the view is that the raises probably were appropriate. "Probably most of them are underpaid," he said.

    Mr. Eskew agrees.

    "That environment is a grind. It is hard work. It is stressful. It is demanding. It requires a level of commitment that is rarely duplicated in state government," he said.

    Mr. Eskew said he came into the office barely out of college and learned on the job.

    "When you look at executive-level talent, that accept responsibilities at that level, I think they're fairly paid even with the increases over our crew," he said.

    Two Southern states of similar size pay the governor's top staff less. In Alabama, only the governor's legal counsel makes more than $65,000. In Mississippi, the chief of staff gets $83,402, but most top aides average about $60,000.

    In neighboring North Carolina, which is much larger, both the chief of staff and the budget officer earn roughly $110,000.

    Mr. Campbell, who served two terms as governor, faced similar criticism halfway into his first term for raising his aides' salaries.

    The Legislature has never challenged Mr. Beasley's budget requests.

    Comparison of salaries paid to governors' aides

    Salaries paid to top aides in the governor's office and percent changes, from former Gov. Carroll Campbell's last fully staffed year in 1991, Gov. David Beasley's first year in office and the current fiscal year:

    Salary 1991 -- Salary 1995 -- Current

    Chief of staff -- $88,149 -- $95,000 -- $96,900

    Leg. affairs -- 63,652 -- 90,000 -- 91,800 (vacant)

    Legal counsel -- 74,868 -- 90,000 -- 91,800

    Communications -- 77,409 -- 90,000 -- 91,800

    Finance -- 77,400 -- 90,000 -- 91,800

    Press secretary -- 44,000 (approx.) -- 65,000 -- 67,600

    Total -- $425,478 -- $520,000 -- $531,700

    Percent changes -- 1991-95 -- 1991-97 -- 1995-97 --

    Chief of staff -- 8 percent -- 10 percent -- 2 percent --

    Leg. affairs -- 41 -- 44 -- 2 --

    Legal counsel -- 20 -- 23 -- 2 --

    Communication -- 16 -- 19 -- 2 --

    Finance -- 16 -- 19 -- 2 --

    Press secretary -- 48 -- 54 -- 4 --

    Total -- 22 percent -- 25 percent -- 2 percent -- P> SOURCES: State salary records and news stories. The figure for the press secretary in 1991 is approximate because the law requires providing only salary ranges for those making less than $50,000. The current salary for the press secretary comes from information provided by the governor's office at the time of the new press secretary's appointment this year. The position of legislative liaison-deputy chief of staff currently has been vacant since February.