In fat years, lawmakers love to warn that this is no time to raise public employee salaries, because doing so would force them to raise taxes, and raising taxes would surely bring a happy economy to an apocalyptic end.
And in lean years -- and worse, after all the fat's been cut from the budget, and a lot of the muscle too, and the blade is shaving the bone -- lawmakers love to warn that this is no time to raise public employee salaries, because doing so would doom poor South Carolina's economy to stagnation and prolong its arid, torturous march to recovery.
At least in the latter cases, responsible lawmakers have, in time gone by, dangled this promise to those suffering the loss of earning and buying power: Your wages may not increase, but we haven't forgotten your valuable service to the people of South Carolina; we'll continue to strengthen your health care benefits and your retirement.
That worked through the recessions of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Yea, though salaries moved like molasses uphill in those times, employee benefits were preserved. Ask any teacher will a long memory and she'll confirm it.
The thinness of that promise became apparent in the early 2000s, when finance committee chairs huffed and puffed that they could no longer protect health insurance coverages. Public employees saw their out-of-pocket expenses rise at the same time their coverage shrank. Few new features were added -- the chiropractors' lobby was successful at persuading legislators to cover more visits to the chiropractor, for example -- but deductibles, co-payments and prescription costs rose and rose.
our new governor announced her desire to cut health care coverage for public employees, AND to cut retirement benefits for public employees, ON TOP OF leaving public employees with years-stagnant wages AND the threat of more job cuts.
The root cause of South Carolina's budget woes, it would appear, are the Cadillac-quality benefits packages doled out to public employees at taxpayer expense.
Gov. Nikki Haley says she plans to propose cutting state employees' health care and retirement benefits as a way to start addressing what she says is $14 billion in unfunded retirement benefits. She made the announcement during a town hall meeting Thursday night in Lexington.
"We've got retirees that we know have been promised things and so we always want to make sure that we protect them as best as we can. But current government employees, we're going to have to look at what we can do," she said.
Note again the governor's careful consideration of the state's obligation to its retirees, and the lack of certainty that South Carolina will honor that obligation: "We've got retirees that we know have been promised things and so we always want to make sure that we protect them as best as we can."
For generations, men and women have lived with a modicum of faith that the promises made to their by their government would be kept. Public employees, especially, have held tightly that faith in the leanest of times because they, too, had children to raise and they, too, had dreams that their children would make it to college, make it to a good career, make it out of working poverty.
In those times, leaders of both parties understood their part of that faith, and moved heaven and earth to honor it.
Not so anymore. This is the Haley era.