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In the pay-raise race, the S.C. Senate is running neck and neck these days with the House.

A review by The Nerve of salary data obtained under the state Freedom of Information Act found that 33 Senate staffers earning at least $50,000 annually received pay raises since March 2012, ranging from 8.15 percent to more than 67 percent, with 15 employees garnering pay hikes of more than 10 percent.

A total of 46 staffers in the $50,000-plus club received raises during the 18-month period; 12 received increases of 5.06 percent, The Nerve’s review found. State employees last fiscal year, which ended June 30, received a 3 percent increase, courtesy of the General Assembly.

Senate Clerk Jeffrey Gossett, the chamber’s top administrator, was among 18 Senate staffers who received an 8.15 percent raise. His salary during the period jumped by $12,463, to $165,429 from $152,966, bringing it line with House Clerk Charles Reid’s pay, whose current salary is $164,196, records show.

Meanwhile, the median household income in the Palmetto State dropped by nearly 11 percent from 2000 to 2012 when adjusted for inflation, according to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Nerve reported last year that as of March 2012, 32 House staffers earning at least $50,000 received raises ranging from 5 percent to 55 percent compared to the previous fiscal year. House staff pay in the $50,000-plus category increased 3 percent across the board since March 2012, mirroring the raises given to other state employees last fiscal year, The Nerve’s review found.

The 124-member House and 46-member Senate do not follow the typical appropriations process when it comes to their respective chamber budgets, which has led to largely unexamined budget increases in recent years.

The Nerve in 2010 reported, for example, that the Senate received a nearly $5 million budget increase for fiscal 2011, part of which was used to cover pay raises for Senate staffers, despite claims by chamber leaders that the funds were needed for other pressing concerns.

The Nerve sent written questions to Gossett seeking comment on the latest pay raises, though no response was provided by publication of this story at thenerve.org in late September.

In a Nerve story last year, Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, said Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence and chairman of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, typically has final say on pay raises for Senate staffers. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, traditionally has controlled the pay of House staffers, Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville and the House Operations and Management Committee chairman, said then.

Efforts to reach Courson and Leatherman were unsuccessful. Courson’s sister-in-law, Sally Cauthen, who is the research director of the Education Committee, of which Courson is chairman, was among the 18 Senate staffers who received 8.15 percent raises; her current salary is $73,534.

Courson last year told The Nerve that he has no say over Cauthen’s pay; doesn’t supervise her; and that he cleared her hiring several years earlier in advance with the State Ethics Commission. The law has since been changed to expand the list of relatives whom lawmakers are prohibited from causing to be hired for state jobs.

Following is a list of 10 Senate staffers in the $50,000-plus group who received the biggest pay raises since March 2012, with their current salaries and the percentage of their pay hikes in parentheses:

-- Erin Crawford,* research director/chief of staff, Judiciary Committee: $100,579 (67.63 percent);

-- Jane Shuler,** chief attorney, Judicial Merit Selection Commission; staff attorney, Judiciary Committee: $73,705 (45.71 percent);

-- Robert Maldonado, staff attorney, Judiciary Committee: $74,550 (17.87 percent);

-- Chuck Williams, chief deputy sergeant-at-arms: $70,389 (17.32 percent);

-- Gene Hogan, research director, Agriculture Committee: $70,258 (16.88 percent);

-- Craig Parks, senior budget analyst, Finance Committee: $107,110 (16.42 percent);

-- JJ Gentry, staff attorney, Judiciary Committee: $89,250 (15.47 percent);

-- DeAnne Gray, minority caucus research director: $86,700 (15.29 percent);

-- Jean Tisdale, accounts manager, $79,701 (13.56 percent); and

-- Ken Moffitt, counsel to the Senate clerk: $121,711 (13.02 percent).

*previously chief of staff, Rules Committee

**assigned work week increased from three to four days

The 10 highest-paid Senate staffers are:

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-- Jeffrey Gossett, Senate clerk/research director: $165,429;

-- Michael Hitchcock, assistant Senate clerk/assistant research director: $145,977;

-- John Hazzard, chief counsel, Judiciary Committee: $142,873;

-- Michael Shealy, budget director, Finance Committee: $139,349;

-- Ken Moffitt, counsel to the Senate clerk: $121,711;

-- Angie Willis, senior budget analyst, Finance Committee: $109,751;

-- Craig Parks, senior budget analyst, Finance Committee: $107,110;

-- Grant Gibson, senior budget analyst, Finance Committee: $101,241;

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-- Erin Crawford, chief of staff, Judiciary Committee: $100,579; and

-- Robby Dawkins, chief of staff, Finance Committee: $100,375.

Below are the 10 highest-paid House staffers:

-- Charles Reid, House clerk/personnel director: $164,196;

-- Brad Wright, chief of staff/legal counsel, House Speaker’s Office: $117,420;

-- Beverly Smith, chief of staff, Ways and Means Committee: $117,317;

-- Don Hottel, assistant House clerk in charge of research: $116,839;

-- Pierce McNair, director, Education and Public Works Committee: $104,900;

-- Tim Rogers, budget analyst, Ways and Means Committee: $103,728;

-- Patrick Dennis, chief counsel, Judiciary Committee: $97,850;

-- Mitch Dorman, sergeant-at-arms: $93,318;

-- Andy Fiffick, chief of staff, Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee: $87,653; and

-- Greg Foster, deputy chief of staff/communications director, House Speaker’s Office: $87,550.

The Nerve’s review found that 48 House staffers receive salaries of at least $50,000, with an average salary of $73,331. An additional 31 House staffers earn less than $50,000; under the Freedom of Information Act, individual salaries in that range are listed in $4,000 increments.

Although the House has more than 2.5 times the number of lawmakers compared to the Senate, it has 32 fewer total staff members compared to the other chamber, according to chamber salary records provided to The Nerve under the Freedom of Information Act.

On the Senate side, 58 staffers earn $50,000 or more, with an average salary of $78,612, The Nerve’s review found. An additional 53 employees earn less than $50,000.

Rick Brundrett reports for thenerve.org, a website of the South Carolina Policy Council. Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. South Carolina Policy Council policy analyst Shane McNamee contributed to this report.

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