S.C. Statehouse Report
Dec. 28, 2003
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State employees have
holiday wishes despite budget problems
SC Statehouse Report
DEC. 28, 2003 - - South Carolina state employees want more than
their two front teeth for Christmas. They'd like a pay raise. And
if possible, they'd like better health benefits.
are a lot of state employees who go above and beyond the call of
duty of what their jobs are," said attorney Charles Knight,
who works at the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs in Columbia.
Over the last three years, South Carolina has had seven mid-year
budget cuts. In the same time frame, the state's 63,000 employees
have received a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment and a 1 percent
merit raise. That's only 37 percent of the 6.8 percent inflation
In other words, state employees' real pay is lower today than it
was three years ago because of inflation. At the same time, they're
paying more than three years ago to get reduced health benefits.
For example, today's state employee with a family is paying $83.52
more per month - - just over $1,000 per year - - for health insurance
that has higher deductibles, higher outpatient costs, higher emergency
room costs, higher prescription drug costs and a new office visit
co-pay, according to Broadus Jamerson, head of the S.C. State Employees
Patrick McCawley, a reference archivist with the S.C. Department
of Archives and History, said he felt the effect of higher health
costs. He pays about $100 more per month to receive health insurance.
Combined with a five-day furlough at his department, he believes
he really has received a pay cut over the last three years from
"They expect state government to provide services," he
said. "They need to shell out money for them. The indiscriminate
cutting of the budget is just
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Others were more reticent about talking on the record about pay
in a series of random phone calls. But there was a clear consensus
about what state employees wanted from lawmakers. As one Department
of Mental Health employee said, "a raise - - it's that simple."
Jamerson said his association of 18,000 active and retired state
employees would push for a 5 percent pay raise and added health
benefits in the coming legislative session. A similar push is expected
from a larger coalition called COPE - - the Coalition of Public
Employees, which represents SCSEA and 10 other groups of 375,000
public employees and retirees.
Over the last few months, Jamerson and colleagues have been meeting
with state lawmakers to push their view that a pay raise is desperately
needed. Part of their argument is that many South Carolina counties,
which face similar budget constraints as the state, have given annual
raises over the last few years.
For example, Darlington County has given a 3 percent annual raise
in each of the last three years (a 9 percent total), compared to
the 2.5 percent total by the state. Richland County has approved
a top merit/COLA pay raise of 4 percent per year for each of the
last three years, although many county employees don't get the top
amount. Nearby Lexington County has approved merit/COLA raises that
peak at 10 percent over three years. Dorchester has given about
2.6 percent per year and Horry County has given about 2 percent
a year that is based on a pay grade's entry level salary.
While it makes sense to compare state and county employee pay raises,
the dollars just might not be there in the coming year for state
employees. A 5 percent pay hike translates into $77 million. That
won't be easy to find with the state facing needs of more than $500
million to meet Medicare cost increases, deal with a deficit, and
find recurring monies for health and education costs paid this year
with one-time monies.
For state employees to get a real holiday gift next year, they're
going to have to work hard to get lawmakers to shift their priorities.
Fruits of the digital age
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
Need more than troopers to save lives on road
To the editor:
The traffic fatality situation only partially comes
about because of too few troopers on the road. DPS is overloaded
with civilian personal, paperwork and to many specialized jobs.
On top of that with the troop concept troopers take more time going
to and from court and are patrolling much less and are not near
as effective if stationed in individual counties.
Troopers are losing their identities and respect of
the public because they don't have that personal contact that living
in and mingling within a county provides. The public only sees them
at critical times and in most cases people having to wait for hours
for them to respond creates problems. The Courtesy may still be
there but the efficiency and service simply is not.!
-- James Fleming Jr., Bennettsville, S.C.