COLUMBIA -- House members may have scuttled retirement pay increases for all state retirees out of concerns that they won't get bigger pension checks of their own.
With an 13-11 vote Wednesday, the Ways and Means Committee agreed to indefinitely delay action on the raises.
The legislation would have given state workers in four retirement systems automatic cost of living adjustments of 2 percent yearly. But the plan came under fire two weeks ago as the House gave it a key yes vote on the same day the Senate Finance Committee nixed raises for current workers as it cut spending to balance the budget.
The seemingly conflicting moves drew a rebuke from Gov. Mark Sanford and, in an unusual move, the pension boost was sent back to the House Ways and Means Committee the following day.
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The chairman of that committee, Dan Cooper, and other legislators noted Wednesday they had parents who served in the Legislature and counted on their Statehouse pension checks. "My dad, that's his major source of income" and there has been no increase since 1992, the Piedmont Republican said.
State retirees in the biggest pension and police officers in a smaller retirement program come out the losers if the increase in benefits is not passed, said Sam Griswold, president of the State Retirees Association of South Carolina.
The bill was intended to put those pension systems on sound enough financial footings to provide for the 2 percent annual pay bump and without it those pensioners are likely to see only a 1 percent increase. "I think it's unfortunate that this bill got tied up in a public image issue," Griswold said.
All retirees, including legislators, ought to be guaranteed the increase "because it helps them cope with the actual increases in the cost of their lives," Griswold said.
The retirement system for legislators now pays 333 current and former lawmakers and their surviving spouses. State Rep. Herb Kirsh, 78, is one of them and draws about $32,000 yearly from the system. He led efforts to scuttle the legislative pay increase when the bill came back to the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Clover Democrat won a 4-1 vote in the subcommittee, but about an hour later, a sharply divided Ways and Means Committee decided to delay indefinitely doing anything about retiree raises altogether.
The move would require the House to take extraordinary action to get the bill up for debate. The Senate has a similar bill on its calendar that has not been debated.