S.C. Statehouse Report
Dec. 28, 2003
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/03.1228.wishes.htm


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State employees have holiday wishes despite budget problems
By Andy Brack
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.

"There 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 rate.

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 Association (SCSEA).

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 state lawmakers.

"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 … for votes."



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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:

12/23: 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.


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