Politics & Government

SC has a $177 million surplus. State workers, teachers want their cut

‘Education is the key’: SC teachers and state workers rally at State House

SC teachers and state workers gathered at the State House in Columbia, SC for the South Carolinians Deserve the Best rally, advocating for higher pay and more support from state lawmakers.
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SC teachers and state workers gathered at the State House in Columbia, SC for the South Carolinians Deserve the Best rally, advocating for higher pay and more support from state lawmakers.

South Carolina’s state workers and teachers say they should get most of the state’s $177 million budget surplus.

That idea was endorsed Friday by state Rep. James Smith, the Democratic challenger to Republican Gov Henry McMaster in next month’s election.

Carlton Washington, head of the S.C. State Employees Association, sent a letter Monday to McMaster asking for his support in using the one-time surplus for one-time bonuses, split between the 80,000-plus state workers and public school teachers.

That would amount to $88.5 million for state workers and $88.5 million for teachers — both underpaid compared to their Southeastern neighbors.

In response to the letter, McMaster and Washington plan to meet Tuesday in the Governor’s Office.

“We have been sincere and forthright in sharing what’s going on with employees,” Washington said. “The facts are indisputable about what’s going on in state agencies. The facts are indisputable about employees walking away from public service” because of low pay.”

Those facts, Washington said, are proved by a 2016 study — that the state paid nearly $300,000 for — saying the pay of state workers lags 15 percent and 16 percent behind the pay of government workers in other states and public-sector jobs in S.C counties and cities, respectively.

“This is about more than what these hard-working public servants deserve,” Democrat Smith said in a statement Friday. “It’s about what we all deserve. We want the very best working for us, and our spending priorities need to reflect that.

The idea has slim odds of passing the GOP-controlled General Assembly, which will decide how the surplus is spent.

In August, S.C. House budget chief Brian White, R-Anderson, said he wants to split the money four ways, including using $50 million to replace 13,000 aging voting machines.

Then, in September, Hurricane Florence devastated the northeastern portion of South Carolina, flooding neighborhoods and damaging roads that will cost millions to repair.

McMaster also has his own ideas about how the money should be spent. If elected to a full, four-year term, the Republican has said he will push for state income tax cuts.

“The governor has never been in a posture where he sees a bunch of money come into the state and he races to find out how we can spend it,” McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said Friday. “He’s about smart investment. He has taken a targeted approach at state employee raises based on need.”

This year, McMaster signed a budget that included a 1-percent pay raise for S.C. teachers. He also signed off on pay raises for the S.C. Department of Corrections to help it retain and hire corrections officers, a week after seven inmates died in an April prison riot.

Despite the other competing plans for the surplus, Washington said Friday he plans to press with his employee-bonus proposal.

“One of the fundamental responsibilities and fiduciary responsibilities that legislators have is to fund government,” Washington said. “The level that they are funding government at now is not getting the job done.”

Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter
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