Thursday, July 3, 2014
Members of the Aiken County Legislative Delegation have voiced a difference of opinion on the recent pay raise debate.
It’s been 10 days since the state Senate voted against a legislative pay raise, and a much longer 20 years since the General Assembly has received one.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley took to social media last week to blast the House for overriding her veto of a bill that would have paid Assembly members an additional $12,000 per year.
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 rather than the House and Senate. Ultimately, the pay raise fell through in the Senate.
While Haley may have a point, members of the General Assembly have one, too; especially when pay levels are compared to other states.
The Aiken Standard takes a closer look at the numbers and opinions of legislators.
Close to the bottom
According to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, South Carolina ranks 35th in the nation in legislative pay at $10,400 per year.
Put in perspective, the state is the last of only 15 states where legislators bring in less than $12,000 per year.
In addition to the salary, legislators earn $140 for meals and housing each day they are in session or attending committee meetings. While state legislators are only in session for half of the year, the salary for a full year would still fall close to the bottom, especially compared to a state like California, which pays legislators the most at $90,526.
Bordering states are also fairing better than South Carolina, including Georgia legislators who earn $17,341 per year and North Carolina legislators who earn $13,951 per year.
Falling in the Senate
While talks of a pay raise began in the Senate, members of Aiken’s Senate Delegation were part of the majority which voted against a pay raise.
S.C. Tom Young, R-Aiken, said he voted against it each of the three times it came up in the Senate – twice during the budget debate and then during the veto process.
“The proposal was added to the budget late in the budget debate in the Senate. It was added at the eleventh hour with little public input,” Young said about his decision to not override the veto.
S.C. Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, also voted against a raise all three times. Like Young, Massey said he voted “no” because the proposal came about very late in the process and was debated very little. He added that the increase was too steep and that there should have been discussions to engage the public.
“Doing it like this, late in the process and with little discussion, was a display of poor leadership and unacceptable arrogance,” Massey said.
Why they voted ‘Yes’
Four out of five members of the Aiken House Delegation voted in favor of a pay raise: S.C. Reps. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, Don Wells, R-Aiken, and Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken.
Clyburn said many legislators are retired officials who must drive to and from Columbia several days out of the year on a relatively low salary.
“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 to take the pay raise if it goes into effect, so it leaves that option.”
Taylor agreed and said a pay raise is needed to continue to attract quality leaders to the General Assembly.
“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,” he said.
From the Governor
Gov. Haley expressed her disappointment in the House in a June 18 Facebook post that came the day after the House overrode her veto. As stated earlier, her main concern was the fact that the vote took place in the General Assembly rather than among the voters.
“If the legislature thinks they deserve a raise, then they should ask for one from the people who pay their salary – the taxpayers. It’s that simple,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Haley.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard.