SC lawmakers to decide whether to give themselves a raise

ccope@thestate.comJune 15, 2014 

South Carolina Senate

JEFFREY COLLINS — AP

  • On the agenda

    Legislators return to Columbia Tuesday to finish up their 2014 session. On the agenda:

    •  Gov. Nikki Haley’s 76 budget vetoes, including a veto of $12,000-a-year pay raises for legislators

    •  Senate action on an ethics reform proposal. Advocates say the bill represents progress in reforming the state’s weak ethics laws; critics say is too watered down.

    •  Electing a Senate president pro tempore, who will become lieutenant governor on the resignation of Glenn McConnell to become College of Charleston president. Senators then will need to elect another president pro tempore top lead the Senate.

    •  Deciding whether the College of Charleston should become the state’s third full-fledged research university

— Lawmakers will decide whether to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto and give themselves a $12,000 raise when they return to Columbia on Tuesday.

They also will decide whether to pass a much-criticized ethics reform proposal and take up a proposal to make the College of Charleston the state’s third full-fledged research university. Meanwhile, the state Senate must elect new leaders, including, in effect, a new lieutenant governor.

The $12,000-a-year legislative raise is one of 76 budget proposals that Haley vetoed, totaling $18.5 million, and legislators are returning to debate.

Representatives must hold a roll-call vote on each veto, deciding whether to sustain or override Haley’s vetoes. “Who knows how long it will take us to get through 76 vetoes,” said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland.

The roll call on the pay-raise veto will be the first time the House has voted directly on the issue. The Senate added the pay hike during the budget process, and the House approved it only as part of the state’s $7 billion general fund budget.

House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said he supports the raise but cannot predict how the House will vote. It takes the votes of two-thirds of the representatives present to override the governor’s veto.

Rutherford also supports the raise, saying it is needed because legislative pay has not been increased since he became a lawmaker in 1998.

If the House votes to override Haley’s veto, keeping the raise, the issue will go to the Senate, where two-thirds of senators present also must vote to override the governor’s veto.

But powerful state senators, including Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, oppose the raise.

Senate shakeup

While the House considers budget vetoes Tuesday, the Senate could put a lieutenant governor in place.

If Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, agrees to become lieutenant governor, the Senate will take up the succession issue first thing Tuesday, said state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate is expected to elect McGill president pro tempore. McGill then would become lieutenant governor after the resignation of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, who becomes president of the College of Charleston on July 1.

Who then will become Senate president pro tempore is up in the air. Both Martin and Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, are running for the post.

The Senate also is expected to vote on an ethics reform bill that the House passed 101-12. The bill has been criticized for not establishing independent oversight of legislators, and Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, held it up before the Senate adjourned two weeks ago.

Bright said he wanted time to review the bill, saying it did not go far enough. Bright said Friday that he had not decided if he will try to filibuster the bill, killing it.

Martin says the bill, criticized as watered down by some, is a huge step forward. “Any time you can get that much progress made, you ought to be thankful and move on.”

College of Charleston debate

Another proposal – to make the College of Charleston the state’s third full-fledged research university – is in conference committee. However, a squabble between state senators and the lieutenant-governor-right-now, McConnell, is threatening to kill the plan.

Peeler and Sen. John Courson, the Richland Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee that oversees colleges, have said they want the summer to study the proposal. The two think soon-to-be-College-of-Charleston president McConnell played politics to get the bill fast-tracked.

The bill’s fate will be decided Tuesday in a conference committee meeting.

With many lawmakers eager to get out of town, Martin anticipates the Senate will not be in session for more than two days.

The House wants to adjourn quickly as well, said Rutherford.

“Nobody is trying to go back and stay for weeks.”

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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