A salary is compensation for work. A bonus is a reward.
For four years, South Carolina's electeds have frozen -- withheld -- restricted -- effectively cut educators' salaries. Educators went on working, prices went on rising, cost of living went on growing, so the real value of educators' pay went on shrinking.
Now, despite South Carolina's uber-regressive tax policies and thanks to deep budget cuts in recent years, it is enjoying a windfall revenue surplus of nearly a billion dollars.
Time to restore those frozen salaries, right?
Sure, that would be logical, so that wouldn't be our lawmakers' first instinct. In South Carolina, we finally come around to doing what's logical, rational and good a century or two after everyone else. We're not what you call "early adopters" of good ideas. Bad ideas, on the other hand, get us out of bed in the morning before the roosters.
That is the only thing that explains today's news that a proposal to give state workers and educators a one-percent "bonus" has floated to the top of the pool.
House Minority Leader Harry Ott says he will try to push through a 1 percent bonus for state workers and teachers in the state budget.
Harry Ott's a good guy. His intent is noble: Get a few more dollars in the pockets of people who are struggling and who are working hard for South Carolina.
But they don't need itty-bitty one-time bonuses. They need their salaries to be restored, four years' worth of withheld step-increases, tout suite. If the post office can't handle the load, UPS delivers.
Ott said the money would come from the state’s reserve funds, meaning it would be one-time money and not carry over to next year. State employees will have to pay an extra 4.6 percent for their health insurance and will most likely have to pay an additional 1 percent toward the state retirement fund.
Here we have a dictionary definition of highway robbery: Those with power and resources rob those without power and resources of all they're worth, for fictitious reasons such as "We can't afford to do it ourselves." Take this out of the legislative chamber and put the same action in the intersection of Gervais and Main streets, and someone would call the police department to come and make some arrests. But since it's occurring inside the legislative chambers, it's legal.
“I believe they deserve (a bonus),” Ott said.
Me, too. Anyone who's spent a week in a public school classroom agrees that educators deserve a bonus. But before we discuss a bonus, they deserve to have their salaries restored -- that's four years' worth of step-increases, joyfully accepted in cash, cashier's check or money order.
I doubt that a one-time, one-percent bonus is equal to four years' worth of withheld step increases.
State workers and teachers would receive a 2 percent raise under a spending plan approved last week by the House Ways and Means Committee. But Ott said he was worried the 2 percent raise would not be enough to cover the increases in health insurance and retirement contributions. Ott said an extra 1 percent bonus would cost the state about $14 million just for state employees. It was unclear how much money would be required to give teachers a bonus.
State Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he has not decided if he will support Ott’s bonus plan. But he was skeptical of how the state would pay for it.
“Where are you going to get the money?” White said. “Reserve accounts are for reserves.”
Funny that the chair of House Ways and Means should ask where lawmakers should find necessary funding for its obligations and institutions. I consulted the ultimate authority on such matters -- the South Carolina Constitution -- and discovered the answer there in Article III:
SECTION 15. Bills for revenue; other bills.
Bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives, but may be altered, amended or rejected by the Senate; all other Bills may originate in either house, and may be amended, altered or rejected by the other.
What tremendous luck! The men and women who are looking for ways to restore state workers' and educators' salaries are precisely the men and women who are empowered by the state Constitution to file bills for raising revenue.
Whew. I was worried there for a minute, thinking that the Constitution might only empower the city council of Stone Mountain, Georgia, to raise the necessary revenues to pay for South Carolina's essential obligations and institutions -- because, as we all know, the city council of Stone Mountain, Georgia, has absolutely no interest in helping raise revenues to pay for South Carolina's needs -- but the authors of our Constitution used great wisdom to put that power squarely in the hands of our General Assembly.
Sounds like this can be resolved pretty quickly, then. All we need is for members of the House to introduce legislation that restores those salaries, and legislation to raise the revenue necessary to do it, then send both bills over to the Senate for its approval. Done and done.
Okeydoke, who's going to do it?