The paychecks of most workers at S.C. agencies will shrink starting Saturday.
That is because S.C. state and local government workers will start paying more for their pensions — contributing 9 percent of their salaries.
That hit will sting because S.C. lawmakers did not approve a pay raise for all state workers this year.
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“It seems that state employee pay is always left hanging as far as priorities of where money needs to go,” said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, who unsuccessfully pushed for a pay raise for state workers during budget talks.
The higher pension costs will hit state workers who already are underpaid, according to a recent study.
For example, a S.C. government worker who makes $40,000 will pay $3,600 a year for their retirement starting Saturday. That is an increase of $136 from this year.
The increased pension contributions from state and local government workers and their employers — state agencies, local governments and school districts — were passed to put more money into the underfunded S.C. Retirement System.
That pension system has promised billions more in retirement benefits than it has cash on hand to pay.
Some S.C. public-sector workers, including teachers, will get pay raises this year, built-in salary hikes based on added years of experience or new, higher academic degrees.
But most workers at S.C. agencies must depend on the S.C. Legislature for a pay hike.
This year, lawmakers said the state could not afford to give employees a pay raise and also inject $150 million into the pension system.
“The revenue is simply not there,” said state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Beaufort, who co-chaired a special panel that reformed the state’s pension system.
Lawmakers did approve paying the cost of state workers’ higher health-care premiums, so that higher deduction will not come out of workers’ paychecks.
“I wish there was another way to do it, particularly since our state employee pay is so low,” said state Rep. Cobb-Hunter.
S.C. state agency workers are underpaid roughly 15 percent compared to their counterparts in other states and local government, according to a recent study.
S.C. teachers also are paid about $800 below the Southeastern average.
S.C. lawmakers have not approved across-the-board pay raises for state employees during five of the past 10 years.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Cobb-Hunter, who said state workers are hardworking and deserve a raise.
In part, that is because state government has been reeling in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
But the Republican-controlled Legislature also has emphasized cutting state government for the past two decades.
For example, South Carolina has 7,850 fewer state-funded government jobs today than it had in 2000. Those jobs have dropped to 34,444 from 42,300 almost two decades ago, according to the state revenue office.
Herbkersman attributed some of those job cuts to increased technology and automation.
But Cobb-Hunter says the loss of state jobs also contributed to the state pension system’s woes.
“We also have to acknowledge that with fewer employees paying into the system, that will result in a shortfall,” Cobb-Hunter said.
S.C. prisons officers to get pay hike
While the S.C. Legislature did not grant a pay raise to all state workers, some law enforcement employees will be paid more. For example, S.C. Corrections Department officers will get a $1,000 pay raise in the budget that takes effect Saturday. Compared to four years ago, pay for prisons officers has increased more than $6,000 a year. After six months on the job, S.C. prisons officers will see their pay increase to:
$31,263: Lowest security officers, up $6,205 from four years ago
$33,677: Mid-security officers, up $7,615
$35,713: Highest security officers, up $8,648