The Buzz

Senate OKs 4% pay hike for SC employees, heads for clash with House

The S.C. Senate passed a 4 percent pay hike for state employees Tuesday, setting up a clash with the House.

The House in March approved a 2 percent pay increase. State senators doubled that pay hike in the $7.5 billion spending plan they approved Tuesday. The state budget takes effect July 1.

State Rep. Bill Herbkersman, who oversees the House budget subcommittee that spends money on state employees, said he is not opposed to a 4 percent hike, adding that some employees deserve more than that. However, the Beaufort Republican said he believes state employees should received merit-based pay instead of across-the-board increases.

This session, Richland senators have pushed to give state employees at least a 4 percent pay raise.

State employees have not received a pay raise in four of the past seven years since the Great Recession. A 4 percent increase would be the largest pay raise state employees have received in the past decade.

Last year, state employees who make less than $100,000 received a one-time $800 bonus.

About 61,000 state employees would be eligible for the pay increase, according to the S.C. Department of Administration. About 21,000 of those employees work in Richland County. Another 2,100 work in Lexington County.

The Senate also approved a 2 percent pay increase for teachers and a 2 percent boost in the pay that they get based on their experience.

State employees also will face higher retirements costs.

Both the House and Senate have approved state employees paying 0.5 percent more of their salaries for their pensions. Health-insurance premiums also will rise, but both legislative chambers have approved the state picking up the increased costs.

Senators also approved spending $40.1 million above what they currently expect to have in next year’s budget. Lawmakers hope that state budget forecasters predict later this month there will be more money to spend.

Senators will give the budget final approval on Wednesday.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

South Carolina’s $7.5 billion budget

S.C. senators approved a $7.5 billion spending plan on Tuesday. That includes:

▪  More than $350 million in added money for public schools, including $217.6 million to increase the money that goes to schools to $2,350 per student. Despite the increase, per-student funding remains more than $500 million short of the amount that state law says schools should get.

▪  $315 million added for road repairs, including $200 million a year to be bonded through the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank

▪  $37 million for the Transportation Department to make up for road-repairs related to October’s flooding

▪  $240 million for the local government fund, money that goes to cities and counties to perform state services. While up $28 million from last year, that funding is about $70 million less than state law says local governments should get.

▪  An additional $129 million for the Health and Human Services Department to offset annual expenses that agency has been paying for with savings

▪  $72 million to help state and local governments match federal flood-recovery money, including $12 million for road repairs

▪  $20 million for beach renourishment along the coast

▪  $40 million for grants to farmers whose crops were damaged during October’s flooding

▪  $17 million more for the Department of Commerce’s deal-closing fund, used to entice companies to move to the state

▪  $5 million more for repairs to National Guard armories

▪  $2.4 million for body cameras for police officers