While legislators approved a 2 percent pay hike for state employees in the budget, they boosted their own pay more than 50 percent. It's a stark contrast, and one certainly worthy of the veto issued by Gov. Nikki Haley.
Citing the disparity in her veto message, Gov. Haley said Thursday: "I don't believe this is appropriate, nor do I believe the public will see it as an acceptable expenditure of taxpayer dollars."
While the governor only mentioned the $12,000 increase in each legislator's pay, it adds up to one of the largest dollar amounts among her 76 vetoes. Altogether, it would cost the state about $2 million a year.
That's assuming, of course, that all of the Legislature would accept the pay hike. The proviso allows for lawmakers to opt out individually. And maybe a few would do so.
The pay hike originated in the Senate where it was pitched as an increase in the in-district expense allowance for legislators. And it was approved as part of the budget by the House of Representatives.
So the governor's veto will have the added attraction of putting state legislators on record regarding the pay hike, as they vote on an override next week.
It will take two thirds of each chamber to overturn the governor's veto.
Legislators currently get $10,400 in salary, and $12,000 for in-district expenses. The latter was approved years ago by legislators as a way to give themselves a pay hike without having to call it that.
Senators who supported this year's additional $12,000 allowance cited the increased cost of gasoline and telephone expenses.
But as noted in their own consultants' salary survey - quietly funded by legislators in 2012 - they already receive an additional $3,400 annually for telephone, postage and office expenses. Plus they receive generous per diem payments and have a gold-plated pension plan.
Serving in the Legislature is supposed to be a part-time job. The state Constitution says legislators are to be paid for a 40-day session. But the Legislature now arrives in January and doesn't leave until June. And there are lawmakers who believe that they should be recognized as full-time legislators, and paid as such.
Most of the governor's vetoes this year are an effort to hold the line on the expansion of state government.
In its own way, so would this veto. A 50-plus percent pay hike would be a move in the wrong direction.
If legislators don't think their salaries are sufficient, they ought to be willing to make the case forthrightly, not attempt to increase them by a backdoor strategy.
Presumably, there will be enough legislative opposition to the salary hike to sustain the governor's veto when the General Assembly returns to session next week.
At the least, the voters will know who backs the backdoor pay increase - and who doesn't - when lawmakers take up the veto.
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