S.C. government workers shouldn’t expect a pay raise next year, key legislators say.
Instead, state lawmakers are poised to spend added taxpayer dollars to repair damage caused by Hurricane Matthew, shore up the state’s ailing pension system and fill other state needs.
“I really don’t see the funds being there to be able to offer a raise to the state employees,” House budget-writing chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said Friday.
White’s assessment echoes that of other key state budget writers.
But a failure to give workers a raise will hamstring already hard-pressed state agencies and the South Carolinians who use state services. South Carolina’s low pay creates challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified state workers, according to a 2015 pay study.
And that costs the state, said S.C. State Employee Association director Carlton Washington. “You’re actually going to spend more money in the long run if you don’t do the right thing on the front end.”
‘Burning out your staff’
During four of the last 10 years, state workers have received pay raises. As a result, several state agencies say they are unable to compete for workers.
For instance, health care jobs at the state Department of Mental Health – which operates hospitals, mental health centers and nursing homes – pay below-market wages, said Mark Binkley, spokesman for the agency.
“We’re ... in a tight job market with a lot of our critical positions,” Binkley said, adding it becomes even more difficult to recruit and retain employees when years go by with no pay hikes.
Now, the agency has a significant number of vacancies in key positions, forcing other employees to work additional hours.
“There is, of course, the danger of burning out your staff when you require them to work overtime,” Binkley said.
Mental Health isn’t alone, says Washington of the State Employees Association.
Other state agencies also have difficulty retaining workers –from the Highway Patrol to state prisons to Social Services to Juvenile Justice, Washington said, noting staffing issues have resulted in child deaths and riots.
But some legislators say the state has more pressing needs.
“Based on the natural disasters that we’ve had in the past two years and … what we’re facing in the (underfunded state) pension fund we’d be hard pressed” to give state employees a raise, said Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Beaufort, who chairs the House budget subcommittee that decides pay raises.
Senate budget writing chief Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, says it is premature to say whether state workers will get a raise.
First, he said, the state needs to determine what its revenue will be. Last year, the state’s income increased by $1.2 billion. This year, however, that increase is expected to be only $440 million.
Then, the state needs to “look at all of the needs,” including the cost of damage from Hurricane Matthew, said Leatherman, whose Pee Dee region was among the areas hardest hit by the storm.
“We’ll have some tough decisions that we’ve got to make,” Leatherman said.
Gov. Nikki Haley already has signaled that she agrees, asking state agencies to prepare plans to cut their budgets by 3 percent.
‘Some tough decisions’
This year, with legislators facing re-election, state employees received a 3.25 percent raise, the largest in 10 years.
That has a huge impact in the Midlands, where about 21,000 state employees work in Richland County and another 2,100 work in Lexington County.
Those workers are underpaid, according to a 2015 pay study.
That study found S.C. state pay:
▪ Lags other states by an average of 15 percent.
▪ Lags other public sector jobs in South Carolina – city and county positions – by 16 percent.
▪ Lags pay in South Carolina’s private sector by 18 percent.
Washington of the State Employees Association plans to lobby lawmakers for a raise for state workers. “Employees absolutely have to have a raise this year.”
State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said she is hopeful lawmakers can give a pay raise to state workers and also address the ailing pension system without passing on added costs to those workers.
“It is time for us … to show state employees that our thanks for their service is not just rhetoric and that they are a priority,” Cobb-Hunter said.
Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope
State workers will be paid for days off during Hurricane Matthew
Gov. Nikki Haley issued an executive order Wednesday to pay S.C. state employees who missed work because their offices were closed Oct. 5-7 during Hurricane Matthew.
Employees affected work in state offices that were closed in parts or all of Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Lee, Lexington, Marlboro, Marion, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter and Williamsburg counties.
The S.C. governor is able to authorize leave with pay for state employees who are absent from work because of a state of emergency or hazardous weather conditions. Haley has used the provision about 10 times to ensure state workers are paid, including for winter weather and last year’s October flooding, according to her office.
While the executive order does not affect teachers, who are local school district employees, teachers will be paid for days missed during Hurricane Matthew. The days were built into their 180-day contract, according to the Department of Education.
Pay hikes for SC employees?
State employees have not received any pay increase during four of the past 10 years.
2016-17 — 3.25 percent increase
2015-16 — $800 one-time bonus for employees who made less than $100,000
2014-15 — 2 percent increase
2013-14 — 0 percent
2012-13 — 3 percent increase
2011-12 — 0 percent
2010-11 — 0 percent
2009-10 — 0 percent
2008-09 — 1 percent increase
2007-08 — 3 percent increase