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So much for limited government

With her state facing an estimated $1 billion budget shortfall, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley handed out huge salary increases to top gubernatorial staffers on her first full day in office. She also doled out big salaries to newly-created positions within the governor’s office.

Paying attention, Tea Party?

Haley started things off by giving her new chief of staff, Tim Pearson, a 27.5 percent pay raise. Pearson will make $125,000 a year – or $27,000 more than Scott English made while serving as chief of staff to former Gov. Mark Sanford.

Pearson will also have a full-time assistant who makes $60,000 a year.

Haley’s deputy chief of staff for communications and legislative affairs – Trey Walker – will be paid $122,775 a year. That’s a 42.3 percent increase over the second-highest paid staffer in the Sanford administration.

Haley’s top lawyer, Swati Patel, will be paid $102,000 a year – which is a 36 percent increase over the $75,000 a year that Sanford paid his top lawyer.

Haley’s other two deputy chiefs of staff, former Rep. Ted Pitts (policy and cabinet affairs) and Katherine Haltiwanger (operations) will be paid $90,000 and $80,000 a year, respectively.

Sanford’s office had just one employee who made a six figure salary – Mark Sanford ($106,078). That salary is set by law and will not change – meaning Haley will also be paid $106,078 a year.

The Haley staff salaries – which were obtained by the Associated Press – showed increases of varying size up and down the executive staff roster.

Haley’s spokesman, Rob Godfrey, will be paid $65,000 – which is a 4.8 percent increase over the $62,000 that Sanford’s spokesman was paid.

Haley’s budget director, Jamie Shuster, will also make $65,000 – which is the same amount paid to Sanford’s budget director. Yet to be seen, however, is whether Haley will actually submit an operational executive budget as Sanford has done for the last eight years, or merely provide lawmakers with a handful of spending “suggestions.”

Haley will also pay $65,000 a year to legislative liaison Katherine Veldran, while cabinet liaison Taylor Hall will make $70,000 a year. Another policy advisor, Josh Baker, will make $60,000 a year.

Lawmakers appropriated $1.8 million to the governor’s office for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2010. It is unclear exactly how much of that money has been spent, although Haley has committed to paying 17 people a total of $1.2 million over the next year.

Whereas Sanford’s office had eight employees making $50,000 a year or more, Haley’s office has twelve – and all of them are being paid more than their predecessors.

Ironically, Haley claimed on Tuesday that she had “streamlined” the governor’s office.

“We’re living within our means and we’re not borrowing from other agencies, which was done in the past,” Haley told reporter Jim Davenport of the Associated Press, who compiled the information.

Giving her stated advocacy for limited government, the fact that Haley would create new staff positions and dole out these sorts of salary increases in any budget environment is startling. Given the current budget situation in South Carolina, it’s absolutely galling.

These new expenses are totally unnecessary – and totally inconsistent with what Haley campaigned on.

Oh well … at least we know now why Haley (who built her campaign around transparency in government) refused to publicly release salary information during her transition.

So … what do you think of Haley’s executive salaries? Vote in our poll and then share your thoughts in our comments section below …

Haley Administration Salary Data
Pic: Travis Bell Photography