South Carolina’s top accountant to resign after US$3.5-billion error
COLUMBIA, S.C. –
Embattled South Carolina Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom will resign next month after a US$3.5 billion accounting error in the year-end financial report he oversaw.
The state’s top accountant will leave the elected post he has held for 20 years on April 30, according to a copy of the resignation letter obtained by The Associated Press.
“I have never taken service to the state I love or the jobs to which I have been elected lightly, endeavoring to work with my colleagues, from constitutional officers to members of the General Assembly, to be a strong defender of the taxpayer and a good steward of their hard-earned tax dollars,” Eckstrom wrote in the March 23 letter to South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. “They deserve nothing less.”
The blunder’s revelation last month brought mounting scrutiny. House lawmakers called for an impeachment inquiry. The Senate panel investigating the error issued a damning report last week that suggested Eckstrom resign or face removal “for willful neglect of duty.” As recently as last Wednesday, Eckstrom had said he would not quit.
Senators’ report rested responsibility for the mapping error — which grew during the state’s transition to a new internal information system from 2011 to 2017 — solely with Eckstrom. State officials testified that Eckstrom ignored auditors’ yearslong warnings of a “material weakness” in his office and flawed cash reporting.
Eckstrom has said the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report overstated the state’s cash position by double counting the money sent to colleges and universities. The mistake went unsolved until a junior staffer fixed the error this fall.
Officials have said the misstatement did not impact the actual state budget. But lawmakers initially alarmed by Eckstrom’s inconsistent testimony slammed the failure to fulfill one of his primary constitutional duties of publishing an accurate account of state finances.
The fallout for the state agency that typically flies under the radar is expected to continue. A Senate subcommittee recently approved a joint resolution that would let voters decide whether the comptroller general should continue as an elected position or be appointed by the governor. Eckstrom reiterated his support for that change Thursday in his resignation letter.
The next comptroller general may also lead a much weaker office. The investigating panel suggested its responsibilities be transferred to one or more agencies. State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, an elected Republican, has testified his office could absorb the main tasks.
A certified public accountant, Eckstrom, 74, spent four years as state treasurer before assuming his current office. He has run unopposed in the past two elections and last faced a Republican primary challenger in 2010.