South Carolina’s comptroller quits after a $3.5 billion accounting error
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s embattled top accountant will step down next month after a $3.5 billion error in the year-end financial report he oversaw, according to a resignation letter written Thursday that was obtained by The Associated Press.
Republican Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s decision to leave the post he has held for 20 years came after intense scrutiny of his performance following the blunder and amid rising calls for him to either quit or be removed.
The Senate panel investigating the financial misstatement issued a damning report last week accusing Eckstrom of “willful neglect of duty.” As recently as last week, however, Eckstrom had said he would not resign.
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 … to be a strong defender of the taxpayer and a good steward of their hard-earned tax dollars,” Eckstrom wrote in the letter to South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. “They deserve nothing less.”
The governor accepted the resignation, effective April 30.
The Senate report concluded that Eckstrom was solely responsible for the mapping error, which happened during the state’s transition to a new internal information system from 2011 to 2017. 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 exaggerated the state’s cash balances for a decade 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 overstatement did not affect the state budget. But lawmakers alarmed by Eckstrom’s inconsistent testimony slammed his failure to fulfill one of his primary constitutional duties: to publish an accurate account of state finances.
The fallout may lead to other changes for the comptroller’s office
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 that his office could absorb the main tasks.
Republican Sen. Larry Grooms, who led the investigation, said the comptroller general’s office could also be “done away with altogether.
Grooms thanked Eckstrom for doing the “honorable thing” and sparing the General Assembly from using an obscure state constitutional provision to remove him from office.
Between a 104-7 House vote to cut the comptroller general’s annual salary to $1 and the Senate’s scheduled April 11 vote to oust Eckstrom, Grooms suggested the rising heat had grown too intense for him to remain on the job.
The state Senate will select a replacement for Eckstrom
The Senate must now select a replacement to serve out the rest of Eckstrom’s term, which ends in 2027. Grooms said the next comptroller general should be someone who recognizes that their job is to spend the next three years overseeing the office’s incorporation into other state agencies. He does not anticipate any other heads will roll.
“The buck stopped with him,” Grooms said. “The accountability was with him.”
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.
McMaster — who had resisted calls for impeachment and endorsed elections as the proper vehicle for accountability — thanked Eckstrom for his 24 years of “dedicated service.” The governor previously served as the state’s attorney general alongside Eckstrom early in the comptroller general’s tenure.
“The Eckstrom and McMaster families have been dear friends for decades,” McMaster said Thursday in a letter accepting the resignation. “I know that your every wish has been, and always will be, prosperity and happiness for the people of South Carolina.”
Ocean census aims to discover 100,000 previously unknown marine species
Researchers have embarked on an ambitious global initiative to discover and record marine life hidden in the world’s oceans.
Ocean Census aims to identify 100,000 unknown species in the next 10 years, allowing scientists to better understand and protect the deep-sea ecosystem.
There are huge gaps in our knowledge of the ocean depths. Of the 2.2 million species believed to exist in the Earth’s oceans, only 240,000 have been described by scientists, according to the census.
It typically takes scientists at least a year to definitively describe a species post-discovery, but new types of technology are making it much easier for sea creatures to be studied in their natural habitat. These include tools like underwater laser scanning that can scan gelatinous creatures such as jelly fish that are hard to study on land.
“You can now look at (the creature) in the water column and see what the morphology is and study them in situ,” said Jyotika Virmani, the executive director of the Schmidt Ocean Institute in Palo Alto, California, which will participate in the project.
“What we’re moving towards is a place where we can actually perhaps even do taxonomic identification in the water column instead of bringing everything back to land. And that’s really exciting and will make things move a lot faster.”
All living organisms, including humans, disperse genetic material into the environment, and the project will also make use of new and accessible techniques to sample waterborne DNA to detect and track species.
While many of the species discovered are likely to be on the smaller end of the scale, Virmani noted that the world’s longest sea creature was only discovered in 2020 off the coast of Western Australia — a 150-foot stringlike animal known as a siphonophore.
Ocean Census will also help to identify how marine ecosystems are responding to the climate crisis, and assess how marine life could adapt to a warmer climate.
The project is being led by Nekton, a UK-based marine science and conservation institute, and funded by The Nippon Foundation, a nonprofit foundation based in Japan.
Over the next decade, dozens of expeditions to the ocean’s biodiversity hotspots will search for new species involving divers, submarines and deep-sea robots. The project also hopes to involve private vessels and individuals. The data and information gathered will by openly accessible for scientists, policymakers and the public for noncommercial use.
3 tips can help you save if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, personal finance expert Suze Orman says
When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it can be tough to find money to save.
That was the situation one audience member, Natalie, wrote in about ahead of CNBC’s Women & Wealth event on Tuesday. While grappling with high childcare and housing costs, Natalie is barely breaking even, she wrote, which makes finding money to set aside for big goals like retirement difficult.
A recent CNBC Your Money Financial Confidence Survey, conducted in partnership with Momentive, shows that she is not alone. More than half, or 58%, of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, according to the March results.
If you find setting money aside difficult, it’s a sign that it’s time to change your lifestyle, personal finance expert Suze Orman said.
As part of its National Financial Literacy Month efforts, CNBC will be featuring stories throughout the month dedicated to helping people manage, grow and protect their money so they can truly live ambitiously.
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“You have to strike the word ‘can’t’ out of your vocabulary,” Orman said in response to the audience query.
Rather, people should draw up a financial to-do list right now that includes getting out of credit card debt, having an eight- to 12-month emergency fund and funding their retirement accounts, Orman said.
That’s as many experts, including Orman, say a recession could be coming.
But whether there is a recession or not, you need to be prepared that an unexpected event — like an illness, accident or layoff — could set you back, Orman said.
“The most important thing, really, for everybody to understand about their money … is that you have got to live a life below your means, but within your needs,” Orman said.
Several tips can help you get started.
1. Make yourself a ‘No. 1 priority’
Portrait of an elegant man in a suit preparing for an important day at work
Daniloandjus | E+ | Getty Images
People who think they are living paycheck to paycheck likely have something they are doing with money that they should not be doing, Orman said.
For example, if you go out to eat rather than eating in, that’s $10 you could be putting into a Roth individual retirement account — an account for post-tax contributions towards retirement.
“You have to make yourself a No. 1 priority,” Orman said.
That means you do what you have to do in order to meet your financial goals, she said, even if it means taking on more than one job or cutting back on discretionary expenses.
You should be always be funding your retirement accounts, Orman said.
2. Automate your savings
To get into the habit of setting money aside, it’s best to automate the process, Orman said.
So whether you choose to do $50 a month or $100 a month, by setting aside money before you see it in your paycheck, “you will find that you do not miss it,” Orman said.
Inside MT BARBER: The Rising Star in the Barber Shop Industry
Gustavo Olmedo Romero, a professional barber from Oaxaca, Mexico, is making waves in the world of barbering with his brand MT BARBER. Born on September 1, 1986, Gustavo migrated to the United States at the age of 15 in search of a better future. He settled in New Brunswick for two years before moving to Delaware, where he worked multiple jobs, including dishwasher, cook, and gardener.
This period of his life was crucial in shaping his work ethic, and Gustavo is now living his dream.
At the age of 24, Gustavo started learning the profession that had fascinated him since childhood. He taught himself through videos and practice sessions with his friends, and in 2010, he began working in a barber shop where he worked for seven years, honing his skills and becoming a high-level barber. In 2017, Gustavo opened his first barber shop called MT BARBER SHOP, where he employed 12 barbers. Two years later, he opened his second shop with the same name, adding 12 more barbers to his team and expanding his brand.
According to Gustavo, the world of barbering is an excellent profession to learn and grow in, but it requires a lot of discipline and constant learning because haircuts and styles are continually evolving. Gustavo has also worked with professional soccer players, including José Andrés Martínez and Gelmin Rivas. His vision is to expand his brand nationally and internationally, and he knows that it will take a lot of hard work and effort, but he is determined to achieve his goals.
MT BARBER’s Instagram handle is @mexican_talent, and you can book an appointment on their website mtbarbershop.booksy.com. Gustavo Olmedo Romero is changing the world of barbering with his brand, MT BARBER, and he is an inspiration to many aspiring barbers.
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