Editorial | South Carolina legislators looking at $12,000 raise

The following editorial appeared May 3 in The (Charleston) Post and Courier:

The state Senate Finance Committee has endorsed a plan to give legislators another $12,000 a year -- and by the back door to boot.

You have to wonder how many taxpayers would endorse that kind of pay hike. Are our lawmakers really doing that good of a job?

Currently, legislators are paid a salary of $10,400 a year, plus $12,000 for something called in-district expenses, an allocation that was approved years ago as a back-door pay hike. And they're at it again, with a plan to double that amount.

Legislators also get a per diem of $131 when they are in session, mileage compensation on official business, and are members of a gold-plated retirement system.

It's not all that bad for a job that the state Constitution envisions lasting only 40 days a year. That would put the session ending sometime in March, even with the short work week.

But you can hardly get lawmakers to go home before June.

What is the attraction of staying in Columbia? Maybe it has something to do with being treated like big shots when the Legislature is in session.

So far, the big splash of the legislative year has been the creation of the Department of Administration, a new Cabinet agency that will take over many of the duties of the state Budget and Control Board.

Even though that needed reform already had been discussed for years, it was still a surprise that legislators finally managed to approve a bill in the early part of the session.

The other big issue pending is ethics reform, and so far the outlook isn't promising. The Senate passed a bill that mainly would require additional income disclosure, but not much else and not enough of that. Certainly, it wouldn't provide for independent investigation or adjudication of ethics complaints against legislators – as is required for every other elected official in the state.

We recognize that legislative pay has remained static for a number of years, but lawmakers who support this idea should be willing to stand up and tell the taxpayers just why they deserve such a big hike.

After all, taxpayers would pay for the increase.

And the fact that on Wednesday the committee recommended a cut in state allocations to counties to provide for it could mean that they pay for it twice. Presumably, the counties would look to local taxpayers to make up that $2 million loss in revenue.

But the largest fear of increasing pay for lawmakers is that it is another step to a full-time Legislature.

Actually, the General Assembly should be moving the other way, to a shorter session.