Enquirer Herald

York Co. Republican lawmakers frustrated with politics in Columbia

Several of York County’s Republican state legislators told members of a local conservative group Tuesday that despite the state Legislature recently passing a budget, the politics of how they arrived there lacked transparency and left them frustrated.

Raises for House staffers and a controversial move by Gov. Nikki Haley to ensure state employees pay more toward their health insurance costs were among the examples the legislators provided.

State Reps. Ralph Norman and Gary Simrill, both of Rock Hill, Deborah Long of Indian Land, Tommy Pope of York and state Sen. Greg Gregory of Lancaster were guest speakers at the monthly meeting of GPS Conservatives for Action PAC Tuesday at Thursdays, Too in Rock Hill.

Simrill said one indiscretion came from Haley, when she asked the five-member state Budget and Control Board to raise the out-of-pocket expenses state employees pay toward their health insurance. In a 3-2 vote this month the board agreed to override the Legislature’s earlier vote not to increase costs for employees.

Simrill said Haley, on principle, should not have taken advantage of a board she wants to dismantle for being “antiquated” and giving too much power to too few.

Challenges in the S.C. Supreme Court to the board’s vote will be costly for the state, he said.

Norman agreed that the board should be abolished, but defended Haley’s decision.

“To err on the side of giving (taxpayer money) back (to taxpayers) makes sense to me,” he said.

The lawmakers also discussed what they saw as a lack of transparency when working on the budget.

Pope, Simrill and Norman said they didn’t know about money approved in the state budget to provide salary increases to House staffers until after the budget was approved.

Simrill, who sits on the House Ways and Means committee, said he knew $2.5 million was being added to the House operations budget to restore prior cuts, but didn’t know the money was for staffers’ salary increases.

Norman said every item added to the budget needs to be up for debate, instead of coming to light in a “sign or die” atmosphere near the end of the budget process, he said.

Hearing concerns from the audience about wanting to stay informed about what’s going on in Columbia, Pope said he understands citizens’ frustration at not always knowing because he feels the same way. He must rely on those working on initiatives to keep him informed, which doesn’t always mean he gets the truth.

Pope said he’s surprised by “how much goes on that you don’t know even if you want to educate yourself.”

State Rep. John King of Rock Hill, York County’s lone S.C. House Democrat, told The Herald after the meeting, “It is not a great day in South Carolina when we have backdoor deals going on and we still have people suffering.”

King wasn’t invited to the meeting but would have attended had he been asked, he said.

On hearing the pushback over Haley’s move to override the Legislature to increase state employees’ health insurance contributions, King said, “The strangest thing is, these people who are fussing about this are all in favor of giving the governor more power and lessening the Legislature’s power.”

Salary increases for House staffers were “something that was kept pretty quiet,” he said, adding that he was “shocked (York County’s Republicans) didn't know about it – they're the party in leadership.”

“Let’s don’t throw a rock and hide our hand,” he said. “We can’t blame everything on everybody.”