Rep. Jim Merrill wants raises rescinded

Jim Merrill

COLUMBIA -- Charleston Republican Rep. Jim Merrill wants the Santee Cooper executives who collected significant raises last month to give the cash back.

Merrill is filing legislation that would reverse the salary hikes and bar the 15 highest-paid executives at the state-owned utility from collecting raises when state employees don't receive cost-of-living increases.

Merrill said the situation is inappropriate, because Santee Cooper is a quasi-state agency.

"They are double-dipping," Merrill said.

He said the public workers he has spoken with have been "outraged." State workers in recent years have been subject to mass layoffs, while those still employed have been required to take unpaid time off.

While Santee Cooper is a state-owned utility, spokeswoman Mollie Gore said it does not receive any state taxpayer funds.

"When it comes to determining executive compensation, we benchmark to a national group of peers to help ensure we are setting fair and competitive salaries," Gore said. "These are increasingly challenging times in the energy industry, and it is more important than ever to attract and keep well-qualified people in place."

Merrill's legislation likely will not pass this year, because it is so late in the session. Still, the Daniel Island lawmaker said he hopes he can find another avenue to force the requirement into law, such as an amendment on another bill.

Either way, Merrill said he wants the bill to cause the utility to reverse its decision.

Santee Cooper's top five officials scored 3 percent board- approved pay raises in late April that took effect immediately.

For instance, Lonnie Carter, president and CEO, now earns $429,406 a year, an increase of $12,507. He joined the Moncks-Corner-based utility as an entry-level engineer in 1982 and became president in 2004.

Three other recently promoted executives also received significantly higher raises, from $11,000 to more than $27,000 more each year.

Utility spokeswoman Laura Varn said at the time the 3 percent pay raises were in line with other employees raises, and the new executives' salaries reflected adjustments from the midpoint of the pay range for the position.