Leaders: Open up pension records
Gov. Nikki Haley and four key state lawmakers said they support opening government pension records that have been closed to the public since 2008.
"It seems to me that we should err on the side of making things more visible and as open as possible," said S.C. Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Kershaw Democrat. "If other states have these types of records open, it would be appropriate to follow that. People deserve to know where their dollars are spent."
A story in Sunday's edition of The Post and Courier highlighted a little-known 2008 state law that exempted pension records from the state's Freedom of Information Act. Other states routinely make that data public.
S.C. Sen. Mike Rose, a Dorchester
Republican, pledged to unravel South Carolina's pension records restriction, he said in an email Sunday.
"I will introduce a bill this week to eliminate the FOIA exemption (for) retirement information," Rose said.
Taxpayer watchdogs and government transparency advocates said the information now being withheld conceals possible sweetheart deals and other abuses that could drive up costs in a system struggling to close a $13 billion shortfall. They want to know why government pension records should be treated any differently than salary records, which are public.
Through a spokesman, Haley said she "would have no problem making state pension payout figures public information."
"The governor would support a statutory change that makes pension payout information public," spokesman Rob Godfrey said in a statement.
S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Charleston Republican, would "absolutely" support opening the records, said Greg Foster, his spokesman. "I don't know whether he'll file a bill or there are other vehicles to do that," Foster said.
S.C. Sen. Glenn McConnell, a Charleston Republican, also supports opening the records. "If there's no good public policy reason behind it, then there's no good reason to keep it," said McConnell, president pro tempore of the Senate.
South Carolina's pension system paid retirees more than $2.5 billion in benefits last year. Taxpayers' contributions to the troubled system have ballooned over the past decade.
Reach Renee Dudley at 937-5550 or on Twitter @renee_dudley.