State workers have almost no chance of getting a pay raise this year.
In the spending plan it approved Tuesday, the S.C. Senate’s budget panel did not include a raise or a one-time bonus for state workers.
Chances of a pay increase for state workers have been bleak since legislators returned to Columbia in January.
Lawmakers have an added $522 million to spend in this year’s $8 billion budget, which takes effect July 1. But a chunk of those added dollars — roughly $150 million — is being spent to shore up the ailing pension system for state workers.
Lawmakers knew they likely could not both give state workers a raise and put millions into fixing the pension system this year, said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland.
“(But) it’s not completely over,” Jackson said, adding there could be an effort to add a pay raise or one-time bonus for employees when the budget is on the Senate floor.
The full Senate will consider the spending plan in the coming weeks, then it will send its version of the budget back to the S.C. House, which did not include a pay raise in its spending proposal. Differences between the two budget proposals must be worked out before the spending plan takes effect July 1.
The absence of a pay raise comes as state agencies struggle to recruit and retain employees, who are underpaid compared to their counterparts in local government and the private sector
“Employees will be really disappointed that the Senate Finance Committee did not see fit to even include a bonus,” said Carlton Washington of the S.C. State Employee’s Association.
“Employees are being punished twice,” he added.
Without a pay raise, state workers’ take-home pay will shrink slightly because they will have to pay more for their pensions — 9 percent of their salaries, starting July 1, up from 8.7 percent this year.
While there will not be an across-the-board raise, some employees — including those who work in prisons — will see their paychecks go up.
The Senate budget panel approved spending $5.4 million for a $1,000 raise for Corrections Department officers. Senate budget writers also approved spending $500,000 for a $750 raise for Department of Juvenile Justice officers and $246,695 for raises for instructors at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.
Like their counterparts in the S.C. House, Senate budget writers also approved the state picking up the increased cost of state workers’ insurance.
The Senate’s budget also includes spending:
▪ $145 million to cover the cost of state agencies’ increased contributions to the pension retirement system, except for state workers who are paid for with federal dollars
▪ $75 million for Hurricane Matthew damage
▪ $69 million in additional money that goes to K-12 schools, based on their student population. The added money raises state spending to $2,435 a student, roughly $500 below the level set by state law.
▪ $46 million in added money for building improvements at S.C. schools; most of that money would go to poor schools that have sued the state, saying they need more money.
▪ $16 million in new funding for S.C. colleges, including $2.4 million for the University of South Carolina
▪ $13 million more to buy school buses, $5 million more than included in the House’s version of the budget
▪ $1 million more for tax credits for donors to a scholarship program that pays for special-needs students to attend private school
▪ $5 million in restored funding for the John de la Howe School, which the House had struck, proposing to start closing the school. The Senate plans to establish a special oversight board to oversee the school.
▪ $10 million for the the deal-closing fund used to lure companies to South Carolina, $12 million less than the House approved
▪ $7.5 million for beach renourishment, $2.5 million more than the House approved
Clock ticking as Senate continues to stall on roads
With 20 legislative days left in the regular session, the GOP-majority S.C. Senate adjourned Tuesday without debating a bill to repair the state’s roads.
Earlier Tuesday, state Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, unveiled a new plan to raise the state’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon and hike other driving fees. Hembree’s plan also would adjust the state’s income tax brackets to reduce the taxes owed on the first $36,000 in taxable income that an S.C. resident earns.
Hembree’s proposal indicates that to win the support of some GOP state senators for a gas-tax increase will require including an offsetting tax cut.
Other Senate conservatives also insist on including a change in the structure of the Transportation Department, giving the governor direct control of the agency. The governor now appoints all the commissioners who oversee the department.
A compromise needs to be reached on those issues before two-thirds of senators will vote to give the road-repair bill a priority status, ensuring the plan will be debated and voted on this year.
Senate restores salary of Public Safety chief
The S.C. Senate’s budget panel Tuesday restored $129,851 to the state budget to pay the salary of Public Safety director Leroy Smith.
Two weeks ago, the GOP-controlled S.C. House voted 76-20 to eliminate Smith’s salary from its version of the state budget.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, pushed for Smith’s removal, saying he was concerned about low trooper morale, high turnover among troopers and an increase in road fatalities during Smith’s tenure.