Florida: $29,697, plus expenses, 60-day session
Georgia: $17,342, plus expenses, 40-day session
North Carolina: $13,951, plus expenses, four-month session
South Carolina: $10,400, plus expenses, five-month session
COLUMBIA - There was a lot of inner-circle grumbling at the Capitol in the days after the South Carolina Senate sustained Gov. Nikki Haley's veto that would have given lawmakers an additional $12,000 a year for expenses.
But some lawmakers, on both sides of the vote, say that pay should be addressed so that qualified candidates will run to represent the people. Critics counter there are other ways to address the issue.
Haley, who was extremely vocal in her opposition to the increase, thanked those who fought against the pay bump, adding that the "53 percent legislative pay raise was defeated" on her Facebook account.
"I don't fault legislators for wanting a pay raise," Haley said when she announced her vetoes. "I fault the way that this was done."
Haley argued legislators get "a lot of checks" in January for which they are not required to provide receipts. She instead encouraged lawmakers to ask the public whether legislators should be paid more.
But lawmakers dismissed Haley's efforts to encourage the public to not forget their attempts to increase their pay.
"This is just a big publicity stunt on her part," said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston. "She knows what it's like to be in the House."
South Carolina lawmakers make $10,400 a year in base pay and receive $1,000 a month for in-district expenses, totaling $22,400 a year. In-district expenses are meant to cover expenditures while working in their roles as lawmakers back home. They would have received an additional $1,000 a month for in-district expenses, had Haley's veto not been sustained by the Senate.
Lawmakers are also reimbursed $140 a day, Tuesday through Thursday, during the session for lodging and meal expenses. The total sum varies because the House and Senate take different furlough weeks off; but they could receive up to $8,820 for the five months they're in session.
"The last thing our growing economy and the hardworking people of this state needed was a backdoor pay raise for legislators and that is exactly why the governor vetoed it," said Doug Mayer, Haley's spokesman. "If the legislature thinks they deserve a raise, then they should ask for one from the people who pay their salary - the taxpayers. It's that simple."
Because lawmakers are in session for five months out of the year, their job is considered part time. By comparison, the governor makes $106,078 in a position that is considered full time. The average annual salary for governors across the country in 2013 was $133,348, according to the Council of State Governments. Nine governors were paid less money than Haley in 2013.
Rep. Eddie Southard, R-Moncks Corner, said he voted in favor of the measure in an effort to get young people interested in politics. If lawmakers made a little more, maybe all lawmakers wouldn't be rich or retired, Southard said.
"The problem is the people's perception of politicians," Southard said. "People don't hold politicians in very high esteem. They just lump them all together and say they are all crooked and corrupt."
But there is more than one way to address the quality of legislators besides just increasing their pay, said John Crangle, director of Common Cause South Carolina. Lawmakers can look into either shortening the time they're in session or switching to a full-time legislature.
"If you really want to get a quality legislature, you have to add about 5 ingredients," Crangle said. "You can't bake a cake by just putting sugar on it. What they want is they want to put the sugar on it but they don't want the eggs and flour to go in it as well."
Despite voting against the measure, Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, said $10,400 a year just doesn't cut it for a lot of lawmakers. Grooms has said most legislators supplement their legislative duties with retirement income or business income.
"I imagine that the conversations will continue next year over what is a proper pay for a legislator," Grooms said, "and what legislative duties should be reimbursed by the taxpayer."
Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, said he too voted against the pay increase, but not because he thinks legislators are overpaid. Like Grooms, Stavrinakis said at some point lawmakers will have to figure out how to handle the issue.
"Everybody wants to make a decent wage for whatever work you put in," Stavrinakis said. "If you can't pave your roads and basic things like that, it's kind of hard for me to justify."
Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.
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