No pay raises for state employees in SC budget deal

jself@thestate.comJune 18, 2013 

File: The South Carolina State House.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

  • What’s next

    The General Assembly returns to the State House at noon Tuesday with hopes of passing a

    $22 billion budget. Senate Finance chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said the House and Senate could adopt the budget Tuesday. If the two chambers agree on the compromises reached Monday, the budget then will head to Gov. Nikki Haley for her approval or vetoes.

State employees will not get a pay increase if a budget deal reached Monday night by House and Senate negotiators – following three hours of back-room negotiations – becomes law.

The budget negotiators, three House and three Senate members, finished work resolving differences between the two chambers’ spending plans late Monday. The $22 billion budget includes a $6.3 billion general fund.

The state Senate had proposed a 1 percent pay raise for state employees. But House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, and Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, voted against the pay hike, which needed approval from at least two members from the House and two members of the Senate to pass.

Instead, the panel adopted a House plan to cover all the cost of rising health insurance premiums for state employees. The increase will not cover other higher health care costs, including higher copayments, White said.

Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said state employees would need at least a half a percent pay increase to offset the impact of higher employee contributions on their state pensions.

But White said state employees – who received a 3 percent pay raise last year, their first raise in three years – have had time to prepare for having to pay more into the retirement system, changes that were put in place last year.

State employees knew “what the increases were going to be going forward in order to keep the system solvent for them ... it’s not like something that was sprung on them,” White said.

When the new budget year begins July 1, state employees will be required to pay a half percent more of their salaries toward their retirement benefits. The increased employee contributions were part of a law that passed last year in an effort to keep the state’s retirement system solvent.

The budget panel spent about three hours Monday in back-room negotiations. When they emerged, the panel took about a half hour to rifle through the remaining disagreements and adopt a spreadsheet containing other items.

The General Assembly will return to the State House on Tuesday with the aim of adopting a budget.

Budget negotiators also:

• Agreed that nothing will change about the way state aircraft are used. Senators originally had sought to sell two state-owned aircraft following controversies involving how legislators and governors have used the planes.

• Rejected $2 million that Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, had requested to set up a fund for victims of a 2011 amusement park train accident in Spartanburg that injured 28 and killed one. Spartanburg County owns the train and, because of a state cap on payouts, the injured, almost all children, had to split $600,000 to help cover their medical expenses.

• Included $26 million to expand the state’s 4-year-old kindergarten program for at-risk children into 17 additional high-poverty school districts. That program now operates in 37 school districts.

• Agreed to borrow up to $500 million to fix the state’s interstates and primary roads, spend $41 million collected from the half the sales tax on motor vehicles on the state’s secondary roads, and use another $50 million in one-time surplus money on bridge replacement and rehabilitation.

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.

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