The Buzz

Senators propose 5 percent pay hike for state employees

State employees would get a 5 percent cost-of-living pay increase starting July 1 if a proposal unveiled Thursday by Midlands state senators becomes law.

However, an S.C. House budget writer immediately poured cold water on the idea, saying only some state workers may deserve a raise.

Gov. Nikki Haley did not weigh in on the proposal Thursday. “The governor will unveil her budget priorities tomorrow (Friday),” said Haley’s press secretary Chaney Adams.

State employees have received an across-the-board pay increase only twice since the 2008-09 budget year at the beginning of the Great Recession.

“It’s time to thank those public employees, state employees,” said state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, noting state workers maintain roads, protect travelers and responded to October’s historic flooding.

The state can afford the $75 million it would cost to give the 5 percent pay hike because lawmakers have more than $1 billion in additional money to spend in the budget that starts July 1, Courson said. “We can do this without a tax increase.”

Last year, lawmakers approved a one-time $800 bonus for state employees who made less than $100,000 a year.

Teachers were not eligible for the bonus because they are considered local school district employees. Teachers also would not be eligible for the 5 percent pay increase. However, employees at S.C. colleges and state agencies would get the pay boost.

“The state employees are the backbone of state services and state government to the people of South Carolina,” said state Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington.

State employees have seen their health insurance premiums, health insurance deductibles and retirement contributions go up, Setzler said.

In addition, state agencies have difficulty competing for workers with the private sector or local governments, said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, one of the proposal’s sponsors.

South Carolina has one of the fastest-growing economies on the East Coast, said S.C. State Employees Association executive director Carlton Washington. “(But) the picture is not so rosy for state employees.”

But state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, the Beaufort Republican who chairs the House budget committee that oversees legislative, executive and local government spending, said merit raises — not across-the-board increases — should be considered for state workers.

Some state employees – those who give 110 percent – may deserve more of a raise, Herbkersman said. Other state employees, based on their performance, may not deserve any increase, he said.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the first version of the state budget, will unveil its spending plan next month.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

Pay increases for S.C. employees?

S.C. state employees have not received any pay increase during four of the past 10 years

2015-16 — $800 one-time bonus for employees who make less than $100,000

2014-15 — 2 percent

2013-14 — 0 percent

2012-13 — 3 percent

2011-12 — 0 percent

2010-11 — 0 percent

2009-10 — 0 percent

2008-09 — 1 percent

2007-08 — 3 percent

2006-07 — 3 percent