A proposal to give most state workers — those making less than $50,000 a year — a one-time bonus of $500 was OK'd by the S.C. Senate on Thursday, as the Legislature's upper chamber adopted its version of the state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Democratic Sen. Darrell Jackson of Richland — who initially proposed an across-the-board 3-percent pay raise — pushed the one-time bonus, contingent on a surplus in the state's general fund. Jackson said Thursday he was disappointed the Senate could not shell out more money.
About 39,445 state workers earn $50,000 a year or less, according to the state Department of Administration. Jackson said Thursday that's about 75 percent of state employees.
"This is a good start," Jackson said. "We've made some progress in educating the body (Senate) on why we need to include a cost-of-living (raise) annually."
Advocates for state workers long have argued Palmetto State workers are underpaid compared to their peers in the private sector and other Southeastern states. The S.C. House's budget proposal, adopted in March, gives teachers a 2-percent raise. It also gives raises to Corrections Department workers.
The state Senate adopted its spending plan by a 37-4 vote, sending the $8.2 billion general fund budget proposal back to the House.
The Senate's budget includes pay raises for teachers — but only 1 percent. However, the Senate's budget also covers the cost of "step" increases for teachers — raises based on years of experience — by giving districts more money for each student they teach.
Unlike the House, the Senate also approved pay raises for the state's nine constitutional officers, who are elected every four years. Those state officers are the governor, lieutenant governor, superintendent of education, commissioner of agriculture, attorney general, secretary of state, comptroller general, state treasurer and adjutant general.
However, the next adjutant general will be appointed by the governor's office, rather than elected by voters after a change was made to the state's Constitution.
Now, the House could adopt the Senate's budget proposal. More likely, state representatives will send the two spending plans to House and Senate budget negotiators to hammer out a compromise.
State Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman thanked his colleagues Thursday for a civil three-day budget debate.
"We had some tough moments along the way," the Florence Republican said. "But I do appreciate what this Senate has done, coming together and respecting each other. I expect more of it."
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the number of state workers who earn $50,000 a year or less. The article has also been updated to reflect the next adjutant general will be appointed, rather than elected.