Being the governor’s top aide pays off.
Trey Walker, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s chief of staff, will earn a salary of $165,000 a year, making him the highest-paid governor’s chief of staff in two decades and likely ever.
The pay bump is $30,000 – or 23 percent – higher than the $134,225 a year that Walker’s predecessor, Swati Patel, made as chief of staff for former Gov. Nikki Haley.
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Walker’s salary is well above the governor’s own $106,078-a-year salary, which is set by the Legislature. It also tops that of at least nine chiefs of staff under Govs. Haley and Govs. Mark Sanford, Jim Hodges and David Beasley.
Haley resigned last month to become President Donald Trump’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, clearing the way for McMaster, then the lieutenant governor, to take over as the state’s chief executive.
Pay for S.C. governors’ chiefs of staff has varied widely.
Under Haley, chiefs of staff made more than the governor.
Tim Pearson, Haley’s first of five chiefs of staff and her political adviser, was paid $128,750 a year when he left the post. Pay for the post increased for Haley’s other chiefs. Patel was Haley’s highest-paid chief of staff.
Chiefs of staff under Sanford, Hodges and Beasley were paid from $92,000 to $106,050 a year.
Asked why Walker warranted a pay bump, McMaster’s office noted Walker’s political, governmental and lobbying experience.
Walker’s resume includes running the S.C. Republican Party, helping McMaster win two terms as the S.C. attorney general and working under McMaster and Haley.
In 2011, Walker left a $122,775-a-year job as deputy chief of staff to Haley for a $135,000-a-year job lobbying for the University of South Carolina. Walker left his most recent job as a lobbyist for the Columbia-based BlueCross BlueShield insurance company to become McMaster’s chief of staff.
Though much higher than his predecessor’s pay, Walker’s salary might be fair if the overall governor’s office budget is lean, said Ashley Landess, president of the S.C. Policy Council, a small government advocacy group. “Is the chief of staff paid more because he’s taking on more functions? If so, that’s reasonable and a positive move,” she said.
With 13 employees on staff, McMaster’s office has fewer hands on deck than Haley, who had 18 full-time positions filled when she resigned. Haley entered office with a 16-member staff, paid a total of $1.07 million.
McMaster’s payroll for his staff – his salary excluded – is just under $1 million. Seven of McMaster’s aides are paid more than $50,000. But the staff may grow.
“The governor believes he has assembled a team of dedicated professionals that will deliver results for the state and its people, and he plans to add more,” McMaster’s spokesman Brian Symmes said.
McMaster brought some of his top aides with him from the lieutenant governor’s office. Their salaries remain the same.
Mark Plowden, McMaster’s chief of staff in the lieutenant governor’s office, will be paid $125,965 as a deputy chief of staff.
McMaster also hired three of his former deputies: Kristy Quattrone, now Cabinet affairs director, paid $70,173; Leigh LeMoine, now a deputy chief of staff, paid $71,064; and Jason Brown, now the governor’s director of legislative policy, paid $61,433.
The governor’s chief legal counsel is Richele Taylor, a holdover from Haley’s administration. Taylor is paid $118,737 a year.
McMaster also has hired Charleston attorney Thomas Limehouse, paid a $90,000 salary. Limehouse was a state Senate page a decade ago, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Rob Godfrey, Haley’s deputy chief of staff of communications, has been assisting McMaster with his transition as a senior adviser. But that role ends next week when Godfrey leaves the governor’s office.
Governor’s chiefs of staff
A look at what S.C. governors paid their chiefs of staff:
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster
Trey Walker: $165,000. Former lobbyist for S.C. BlueCross BlueShield and the University of South Carolina, political consultant and top aide to then-Attorney General McMaster, and S.C. Republican Party chairman
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley
Swati Patel: $134,225. Previously an attorney in Haley’s and Gov. Mark Sanford’s offices.
James Burns: $130,000. Columbia attorney
Ted Pitts: $131,325. Former S.C. legislator now is chief executive of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce
Bryan Stirling: $128,750. Now director of the S.C. Department of Corrections
Tim Pearson: $128,750. A Haley political consultant
Republican Gov. Mark Sanford
Scott English: $98,000. Later a state Education Department official
Henry White: $102,609
Tom Davis: $106,050. Now a state senator
Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges
William Boan: $106,000. Now a lobbyist
Kevin Geddings: $92,000
Republican Gov. David Beasley
Will McCain: $96,000
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Administration