COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – A report on state workers’ salaries shows they’re underpaid compared with their counterparts in other states and local governments within South Carolina, plus they give up more of their paycheck for health care and retirement benefits than other public workers.
Rep. Mike Pitts said Friday the findings confirm what he thought when he pushed for the state-paid study during last year’s budget debate.
“We certainly can’t compete with private industry … but we should be competitive with other states, and especially with local governments,” said Pitts, R-Laurens, chairman of a House budget-writing panel for state law enforcement agencies.
State officers can earn an additional $5,000 or more by going to a local police or sheriff’s department, costing the state millions in revolving-door training, Pitts said.
The Highway Patrol alone is losing roughly 100 troopers a year, he said.
“We’re losing more troopers than we’re training,” he said. “The problem’s already critical in law enforcement and corrections.”
According to the report, state salaries in South Carolina lag other states’ wages in comparable jobs by an average of 15 percent; in-state public jobs, by 16 percent; and in-state private-sector jobs, by 18 percent.
“This creates challenges both in recruitment and retention of qualified employees,” reads the report by California-based Kenning Consulting. “Unlike in some other states where the overall competitiveness of the benefits package offsets the level of competitiveness of salaries, this is not the case.”
South Carolina workers’ 8.2 percent pension contributions are the highest among all Southeastern states and 3 percent higher than the national average for state workers. The 21 percent share that employees pay for their health insurance is higher than the typical range of 7 to 15 percent that workers in other state governments pay, according to the report.
It points out that the state’s salary structure hasn’t changed since 1995.
Although Pitts hopes the report leads to a salary overhaul, he doesn’t expect the Legislature to respond to the findings in this year’s budget. House budget panels are putting together that chamber’s spending proposal for 2016-17.
After a review later this year, Pitts said, salary boosts should be phased in over the next four or five years.
“The cost to the state won’t be a small price tag,” he said.
Carlton Washington, executive director of the State Employees Association, said he didn’t expect legislators to make any sweeping salary changes this year. That’s why his group is pushing for a 5 percent cost-of-living increase in the budget for all state workers.
A bipartisan group of senators held a news conference last month to call for that increase. Its chances are unclear.
Employees haven’t received a 5 percent raise across the board in at least two decades. The closest was 4 percent in 2005, according to the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.
Last fall, employees making less than $100,000 received a one-time $800 bonus. Otherwise, employees have received two across-the-board raises since 2008 – 3 percent in 2012 and 2 percent in 2014.
But past budgets have selectively granted higher raises. In 2014, state law enforcement officers who made less than $50,000 got a 5 percent boost. Last year, legislators approved raises of up to 15 percent to Department of Social Service caseworkers to help with retention. Also, state law allows agency directors to give raises at their discretion.
Washington said such “cherry-picking” is discouraging for employees “who are doing a service and not being paid a living wage.”
The 2015-16 budget designated up to $300,000 for the study, after legislators overturned Gov. Nikki Haley’s line-item veto of it. It ultimately cost the state about $217,700, according to the Department of Administration.