South Carolina legislature considering amendment to make comptroller an appointed rather than elected position

South Carolina legislators are considering a constitutional amendment to make the state comptroller appointed by the governor rather than elected. If passed by both chambers of the legislature, it would appear on the 2024 ballot for voter approval.

The amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 95 on Jan. 10, 2023. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee unanimously sent the amendment to the full committee on March 21, 2023. To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67%) vote is required in both the South Carolina State Senate and the South Carolina House of Representatives.

A comptroller, also known as a controller, is a state-level position in 19 states. Most controllers and comptrollers share duties similar to state treasurers, exercising varying powers related to budgetary and management matters. The controller is popularly elected in nine states and appointed by the governor in seven. The controller is appointed by the state legislature in Tennessee, by the state finance director in Alabama, and by the executive director of the Department of Personnel and Administration in Colorado.

Richard Eckstrom (R) is the South Carolina Comptroller General. He assumed office after winning his first election to the office in 2002 and was re-elected in 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, and 2022. His current term ends on Jan. 13, 2027.

The State wrote that legislators “want to strip powers from Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom after he notified legislators in February that his office had miscounted money for 10 years, inflating cash on hand by $3.5 billion.”

Sen. Chip Campsen said, “When you’ve had this kind of failure, I don’t think you would have had that with an appointed comptroller general because the governor’s office would and his staff would be on top of what’s going on in that office.”

Eckstrom said, “My team and I worked tirelessly to identify the cause of a complex problem. Once we identified the cause of the problem, we worked with stakeholders to correct it. I have made this clear to those who have asked and I will continue to. We remain committed, more than ever, to collaborating with state agencies, and legislators to make sure the work taxpayers elected us to do is done efficiently, effectively and transparently. I will not be distracted by anyone from the work ahead of us, work voters elected me to do during this term. I have long been an advocate of restructuring state government to make it more responsive to the people. Going forward, I will advocate to make the comptroller’s office an appointed position.”

Additional reading:

Lierman and Glassman running for Maryland comptroller on Nov. 8

Brooke Elizabeth Lierman (D) and Barry Glassman (R) are running for Maryland comptroller on Nov. 8, 2022. Incumbent Peter Franchot (D) ran for election for governor of Maryland. He lost in the Democratic primary on July 19, 2022.

Lierman has represented District 46 of the Maryland House of Delegates since 2015. She also worked as a disability and civil rights attorney and field organizer for U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) and former presidential candidate Howard Dean (D). “As one of only three statewide, independently-elected officials,” Lierman said, “I will provide strong independent oversight of our state’s financial resources and be an advocate for families, communities, and small businesses.” Lierman’s endorsers include U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D), U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D), and The Baltimore Sun.

Glassman represented District 35 of the Maryland State Senate from 2009 to 2015 and served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1999 to 2008. In 2014, Glassman was elected as county executive of Harford County. His professional experience includes working as a claims investigator for Travelers Insurance Company. On his campaign website, Glassman said, “Maryland’s budget is nearly $50 billion. As your Comptroller, I will hold the state accountable for spending money responsibly and in your best interest.” Glassman’s endorsers include Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the Maryland Farm Bureau, and The Washington Post.

Lierman and Glassman both made statements regarding environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues. Lierman said she would “ensure that any outside investment management firms reflect the diversity of our state, and ensure our investments are prudent while also reflecting our progressive values” and that “[m]aking climate resilience one of the key pillars of the Comptroller’s Office will ensure that all decision-making and functions have a ‘climate lens’ by which to define future actions.” Glassman said, “The state constitution sets that office up as a non-partisan CFO. A bookkeeper — more than a bookkeeper — a tax collector, revenue-estimator, all those fiscal duties. The comptroller is not intended to be a partisan position,” and said, “I don’t think a carbon neutral or a new policy such as that is probably realistic going forward.”

The comptroller’s main duties are to collect all of the revenues from state programs, to provide information technology services for most of the state agencies, and to regulate the state’s alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel industries. The officer also serves as a member of many state boards and commissions, such as the board of revenue estimates, the board of public works, and the board of trustees of the State retirement and pension system. Additional responsibilities of the office include registering wills, performing compliance audits for taxpayers, handling delinquent tax collection, and enforcing license and unclaimed property laws. The comptroller oversees agency efforts to publicize forgotten bank accounts, insurance benefits, and other unclaimed assets of state taxpayers.