May 27, 2022

The Nerve

Where Government Gets Exposed

House member proposes big pay hike for lawmakers

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

S.C. lawmakers would receive an annual $18,000 pay hike under a House proposal, with the bill’s sponsor contending that legislators deserve the raise.

“This is not a part-time job,” Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, a former Charleston City Council member who was first elected to the S.C. House in 2008, told The Nerve when contacted Tuesday. “What these lawmakers do in South Carolina should be considered a full-time job, and then when you look at the last pay increase that we had, we’re talking years.”

Gilliard’s bill, which was prefiled last month, would raise lawmakers’ current $1,000 monthly “in-district” payments by $1,500, or 150%, to $2,500 per month. On a yearly basis, the total payments would jump from $12,000 to $30,000.

That’s on top of their $10,400 annual base salary.

The proposed $1,500 monthly raise, which would take effect in 2023, would be made permanent state law under Gilliard’s bill. Over the years, the $1,000 monthly in-district payments have been authorized through a state budget proviso, which has to be renewed annually.

In-district payments, which are considered taxable income in South Carolina, are not the only taxpayer-funded income and benefits that lawmakers receive.

A 2010 study by The Nerve found that lawmakers receive on average about $32,000 yearly in combined salary, reimbursements and expense payments for serving part-time. The 170-member Legislature in recent years typically has met three days a week in regular session from January into May, though they have returned to Columbia later throughout the year for special sessions.

A report by a Philadelphia-based consulting firm, which lawmakers authorized in 2012 and made public in 2014, recommended that lawmakers receive salary hikes of up to 192%. It contended that legislators’ salaries were “significantly below” the Southern and national averages, though The Nerve’s review of the study found that its findings didn’t include the yearly $12,000 in-district payments.

The Hay Group report noted that while S.C. lawmakers have a “variety of responsibilities that require time and attention throughout the year,” they are “technically part-time.”

Longtime Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who died last month, proposed at the time doubling in-district payments to $24,000 annually, as The Nerve revealed then, though it wasn’t enacted by the full Legislature.

Besides in-district pay, lawmakers also receive other perks, including:

  • Generous pensions for qualified lawmakers while in office, as The Nerve previously revealed, though by law they have to give up their $10,400 base salary if they draw a legislative pension.
  • “Subsistence” payments to cover lawmakers’ food and lodging while they’re in Columbia for official legislative business, as well as mileage reimbursements, as authorized in state budget provisos. The current total daily subsistence rate is $185.38; the mileage reimbursement rate is 56 cents per mile, according to Senate clerk Jeff Gossett. Subsistence payments are considered taxable income for lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the Capitol; generally, Midlands lawmakers have opted to receive those payments despite living relatively close to the State House, as The Nerve previously revealed.
  • Payments by counties that don’t provide, as required by state law, a county legislative delegation office. Some lawmakers annually receive payments totaling thousands of dollars, as The Nerve previously revealed.
  • A maximum $1,200 per fiscal year for House members for postage; $250 annually to each lawmaker to purchase American or state flags, as authorized in state budget provisos.
  • Plenty of free meals and cocktails from advocacy groups vying for lawmakers’ attention during regular legislative sessions.

Still, Gilliard, a public relations consultant, says the current taxpayer-funded income and benefits for lawmakers aren’t enough.

“Statistics-wise … when it comes to lawmakers being paid a stipend and stuff, we’re last on the totem pole,” he said. “I think we take on a lot, and I’ve always been taught to leave the (legislative) seat better than what the heck you found it.”

In the end, Gilliard said, “We’ve got to change this thinking in South Carolina that if you’re a public servant, you should be paid the least.”

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

Nerve stories are free to reprint and repost with permission by and credit to The Nerve.

 

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