Just when you thought the state Senate had exhibited a sense of restraint by rejecting a backdoor pay hike last Tuesday, a majority of senators actually reversed that decision late the following day. Maybe better sense will prevail when House conferees from the House take up the budget with their Senate counterparts later this month.
Under the budget revision approved by the Senate, 25-20, legislators would see their so-called in-district expense checks double from $12,000 to $24,000 a year. That's in addition to their $10,400 salaries, generous retirement benefits (which some members enjoy even as they serve in the Legislature) and per diem.
Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, on Tuesday argued persuasively against the proposal, which was quietly inserted as a budget proviso during committee deliberations. And the pay hike was then defeated.
But Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, changed his mind on the vote, and under parliamentary rules was able to bring the matter back for the Senate's consideration. It gained a majority of votes after the pay hike was made optional.
Senators could opt out of the benefit, and surely some would do so - initially. But, that number is sure to decline as attention to the salary hike diminishes in future years.
The increase was sold in committee as a needed supplement for in-district expenses such as gasoline and telephone.
We'd like to know just how many senators really spend the currently allocation of $12,000 a year for those expenses. And how many House members, who serve in much smaller districts?
The in-district expense originated years ago as a backdoor salary supplement, and that's what the latest proposal would be. Calling it something other than a salary hike avoids the political consequences to legislators who are willing to raise their own pay.
Sen. Thurmond said. "I'm somewhat bewildered a majority of the body felt that they needed a pay raise. You certainly shouldn't have it instrumented in the year you're serving."
But Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said the salary hike is needed for what is "almost a full-time job."
Serving in the Legislature shouldn't be a full-time job, even though legislators can't seem to tear themselves away from Columbia once the session begins. Bolstering legislative pay - whatever the Senate wants to call it - will only make legislators feel more comfortable about remaining in Columbia for an extended session.
And it's not as if the Senate demonstrates much skill at time management. In recent years, senators have tried to cram in much of its essential business during the final few days of the session, though with only middling success.
The state constitution envisioned a session 40 days long, with commensurate pay. The idea was that legislators would go to Columbia, do their work in a reasonable period of time and return home. This vote is a step backwards from that good idea.