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Governor McMaster appoints new South Carolina comptroller general

Ex-Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom resigned weeks after he admitted to state senators that his department made a $3.5 billion mistake

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster appointed a new comptroller general Friday, a replacement for an agency that recently had a $3.5 billion accounting error come to light.

McMaster announced that Brian Gaines would be the new holder of the office. Gaines currently serves as director of the Executive Budget Office within the Department of Administration, McMaster said.

"Mr. Gaines will serve until the General Assembly elects someone to complete the remaining term of office, which is over three years," McMaster said.

McMaster said University of South Carolina graduation has served in numerous financial leadership roles within state government.

"I see my role as carrying out the duties of the office of the comptroller general, and those duties will be carried out for as long as I'm in this role and such a such a time as the General Assembly decides to elect someone else," Gaines said after taking the oath of office in the presence of his mother and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty.

Back in March, former Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom resigned weeks after he admitted to state senators that his department made a $3.5 billion mistake in the state's general fund over the course of several years.  The error started as a $12 million coding error in 2007, and was compounded when the state switched accounting systems in 2011, Eckstrom told senators at hearings. 

Auditors found that state cash transferred to colleges and universities was being double counted, and they stated that Eckstrom ignored repeated warnings about the problem. They said he waited five years to conduct a full review of accounts that eventually assisted in uncovering the problem about a year ago.

Eckstrom insisted that the error did not affect the state's available funds.

After the mishap came to light, state senators pushed to change the office from an elected one to an appointed position. Senate members put forth a resolution to remove Eckstrom from office, and House members reduced his $151,000 annual salary to $1. Impeachment was also considered.

Eckstrom had led the agency for 20 years and had just been re-elected without opposition last November.

By law, the South Carolina General Assembly was in charge of picking Eckstrom's replacement but was unable to come up with a pick before the end of the session on Thursday. As a result, the responsibility of making the decision fell to the governor.

McMaster calls special session

McMaster also has called the general assembly back for a special session that will begin next Tuesday. Among the priorities lawmakers have set for themselves are passing a budget, toughening laws on gun crimes, and enacting a six-week abortion ban. 

McMaster highlighted some of the legislature's accomplishments including the repeal of a need for healthcare providers to get the state's approval before making changes to their facilities or expanding them, the restructuring of the Department of Health and Environmental Control, school choice initiatives, a law protecting the identity of lethal execution drug providers and an incentive package for Scout Motors, which is set to locate a facility in the Blythewood area.

"However, there are still important tasks that remain unfinished," McMaster said. "The general assembly has not yet closed the revolving door for known criminals, implemented bond reform, or enhanced criminal penalties for illegal gun possession by known criminals. It is imperative that these matters are addressed."

He added that the general assembly must also finalize the state budget and "pass legislation that prevents our state from becoming a destination for abortions."

McMaster announced that he had issued an executive order directing the general assembly to reconvene on Tuesday, May 16.

"I anticipate that the matters at hand will be resolved in a timely manner and do not expect the general assembly to remain in extra session beyond May 31, 2023," he concluded.

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