State workers deserve a raise this year - if only to help offset the anticipated rise in health care and pension costs.
State employees haven't had a raise since 2007. Since then, they have faced furloughs, layoffs and pay cuts.
This year, the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee has approved a 2 percent pay raise starting July 1 for state employees and teachers. Some state law enforcement officers would get a 5 percent raise under the plan.
But if the plan is approved as written, lawmakers will give with one hand and take away with another. While workers would get a long overdue raise, they also would have to pay an extra 4.6 percent for their state health insurance and most likely will have to pay an extra 1 percent of their salaries into the state retirement fund to help make up for its $13 billion deficit.
The effort to shore up the state's retirement system is warranted. That represents one of the Legislature's most pressing challenges this session.
But as the economy improves and state revenues rise, state workers deserve to be rewarded for their sacrifice during difficult times. Pay increases are necessary not only to maintain morale but also to help ensure that the state can attract qualified workers and continue to provide the services that residents depend on.
Some cynically regard state workers as overpaid bureaucrats feeding at the public trough. In reality, the average state employee earns less than $40,000 a year, and 62 percent of them make between $15,000 and $35,000 a year, according to the S.C. State Employees Association.
Public workers include teachers, state troopers, public health workers, social workers and others who help ensure our safety and well being. These workers aren't just a luxury - they are essential to maintaining the public order and the overall quality of life.
Continuing to starve state employees is shortsighted. House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, recently proposed including a 1 percent bonus for state workers and teachers in the state budget.
Ott said the money would come from the state's reserve funds or savings accounts. The bonus would be a one-time event, not recurring next year, to help offset the increased cost of health insurance and pension contributions.
But even if lawmakers reject the one-time bonus, they should embrace raises for state employees. A well-qualified, fairly paid state work force benefits not only public employees themselves but also the state as a whole.
State workers not only serve the needs of the public but also represent a significant block of consumers who help strengthen the state's economy. But they can't spend the money if they don't have the disposable income.
State employees have gone too long without a raise. They deserve one this year, even if it only keeps them from falling further behind.
We hope the full House will follow the lead of the House Ways and Means Committee and grant employees a raise.