State Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, joined about 30 state workers Monday at a news conference to decry Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision to raise state workers’ health insurance costs.
It was another sign of a divided Republican leadership over the issue. Over the weekend, the state Republican Party’s executive committee voted to support Haley’s move.
The state Budget and Control Board voted 3-2 earlier this month, at Haley’s request, to raise health insurance rates for state workers by 4.6 percent. The move will save the state about $5.8 million next year but cost the average state worker or retiree an extra $7.24 a month.
The vote overruled the state Legislature, which voted overwhelmingly in July not to raise rates for state workers. And it angered the state’s top legislative Republicans, House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston and state Sen. John Courson of Richland County.
Knotts joined those voices Monday, saying lawmakers voted to give state workers raises this year of 2 percent to 5 percent.
“This was meant to be a true raise, not something that would be taken away by insurance premiums,” said Knotts, who faces a tough re-election challenge in November from petition candidate Katrina Shealy, Knotts’ 2008 Republican runoff opponent.
While Haley’s move has been denounced by some, it has been praised by others, including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, which applauded Haley “for her fiscally prudent decision.”
The state Republican Party’s executive committee, which endorsed Shealy in her race against Knotts Saturday, also voted to support Haley on the insurance issue, adopting a resolution that reads, in part, “the state government ought to operate more like a private business than a bureaucracy” and “the elected conservative Republican leadership should take a stand on the right side of tough fiscal issues.”
Haley, Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom and state Treasurer Curtis Loftis have defended their votes to raise the health insurance premiums. They say while the General Assembly set aside enough money to pay for the health insurance increase, the Budget and Control Board is not obligated to spend all of it.
State workers disagree, saying what the board did was illegal. The S.C. State Employees Association, in partnership with the S.C. Education Association, have asked the state Supreme Court to overrule the budget board’s decision. Thomas A. Bryson, a USC chemistry professor, has withdrawn his lawsuit in Richland County court and asked to join the Supreme Court lawsuit.
The court has not yet decided if it will hear the case.