S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor said he voted for an across-the-board legislative pay raise, but says he personally has no intention of accepting the money if it passes through the Senate.
Gov. Nikki Haley called out Taylor, R-Aiken, among others, for their vote to give themselves a $12,000 pay raise – a vote which was approved by four of the five House members of the Aiken Legislative Delegation.
Haley issued vetoes last week that cut $18.5 million from $7 billion in state funds approved by the General Assembly. The cuts included a $12,000 pay raise for each legislator.
Haley said her veto was not based on legislators wanting a pay raise; rather, it was her belief that the decision should be made by voters.
The House's first attempt on Tuesday to overturn the veto fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed in a 73-39 effort. However, it was revisited and passed with a 73-29 majority.
Taylor, Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, and Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, told the Aiken Standard on Wednesday afternoon that they voted for the pay increase because of increasing expenses.
“My vote was about the future and encouraging regular folks to be in a position to step up and serve,” Taylor said. “Any legislator will tell you their service is full-time, not part-time. With nearly six months of session annually and a full schedule throughout the year, their compensation needs to be minimally adequate to attract good public servants.”
Haley addressed the issue in a Wednesday morning Facebook post and added that Taylor was one of the legislators who changed his vote from “no” to “yes.”
“The increase is paid directly to them with no ask for receipts or explanation ... straight income,” Haley posted. “They also increased their pensions. I am very disappointed that they would do this. Our hope is that the Senate sustains the veto today.”
Clyburn said the pay increase was introduced in the Senate because members felt so strongly about it. He added that legislators are operating under a salary that was set in place 20 years ago, which is why he voted for an increase.
“There are concerns that the average person cannot afford to go back and forth to Columbia and be a full time-legislator, so that's my main reason,” Clyburn said. “And I know they can opt not take the pay raise if it goes into effect, so it leaves that option.”
Hixon sent a letter to constituents and compared South Carolina's General Assembly to the rest of the country. The highest salary is in California at $90,526 per year, and South Carolina falls near the bottom at $10,400. To put it in perspective, Mississippi has the lowest salary at $10,000, according to Hixon.
“There is never a good time to increase the compensation of an elected official, but given that members of the General Assembly are paid less than many city and county council members across the state, the time has come for the debate,” Hixon in the letter.
S.C. Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, who is not seeking re-election, was the only member of the Aiken delegation who did not vote for an increase. Smith said this isn't the first time he's voted against a pay raise.
“Simply put, I knew what the salary was before I was elected, and I decided to run with that knowledge,” Smith told the Aiken Standard. “I'm not criticizing anyone, but that's been my position. I'm not making an issue of it, and I'm not putting anyone down but I'm just sticking to my conviction.”
S.C. Rep. Don Wells, R-Aiken, voted in favor of the pay raise in addition to Taylor, Clyburn and Hixon. He did not return phone calls from the Aiken Standard by deadline.
The State newspaper contributed to this article.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June 2013. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.