South Carolina

Will SC state workers get a bonus and a pay raise? Lawmakers to decide

South Carolina state employees could get a $600 bonus next year, on top of a 2% pay raise lawmakers already have committed to giving them.

State budget negotiators could make that decision as early as Friday afternoon. That’s when the six state House and Senate members tasked with settling disputes between the chambers’ plans for spending $9.3 billion in state money starting July 1 return to Columbia.

State employees have long lobbied lawmakers for raises, arguing that low pay has made it harder for recruiting and keeping talent, leading to high turnover and low morale. Last year, the S.C. State Employees Association tried to push then-candidate Republican Gov. Henry McMaster to recommend the Legislature use the state’s $177 million surplus on bonuses. That failed.

“Legislators and the governor have a fiduciary responsibility to fund state government at an appropriate level, and that is not being done,” the association’s director Carlton Washington told The State when he pitched the bonuses back in October.

This year, state lawmakers have agreed to spend about $41 million to give roughly 32,000 state employees a 2% raise, the first pay increase most of those employees have received in two years.

However, unlike the state House, senators added $20 million to the state budget to give state workers who earn less than $70,000 a year a one-time $600 bonus. Last year, a similar proposal from state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, failed. That proposal called for a $500 bonus.

State workers are not the only public employees set to get a pay raise next year.

Lawmakers have agreed to spend about $159 million in the budget to raise teaches’ starting salary to $35,000 — up from $32,000 — and give all teachers a minimum raise of 4%. Teachers with less experience would get a higher raise as lawmakers try to recruit young, talented teachers out of college as classroom vacancies continue to rise across South Carolina.

The 4% raise is part of a five-year legislative effort to raise the average S.C. teacher salary to the national average of almost $60,000, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas told reporters last week when lawmakers left Columbia to head home for the year.

“I always knew education was going to be a multi-year fix,” the Darlington Republican told reporters. “We’ve got to continue to do education year in and year out.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.