SC teachers and state employees have earned a bonus, and the money is available

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The state of South Carolina has a budget surplus of $177 million, and with all the neglected and underfunded facets of state government, there are many worthwhile things that could be done with the money.

James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell, the Democratic nominees for governor and lieutenant governor, want to invest it in our teachers and state employees.

The South Carolina State Employees Association, the South Carolina Education Association and the Palmetto State Teachers Association have put forth a plan to spend the surplus on one-time bonuses for teachers and state employees.

This is not ideal. Our teachers and other dedicated public servants deserve permanent pay raises. That’s why James and Mandy plan to raise teacher pay to the Southeastern average – and do it without raising taxes.

But one-time money can only be spent on a one-time need. And there is no need greater than assuring our hard-pressed teachers and public employees that we value their service.

The need is urgent. As Carlton Washington, executive director of the South Carolina State Employees Association, notes in a letter he has sent to Gov. Henry McMaster:

Statistics continue to bear out that state employee morale, recruitment, and retention have never been worse in South Carolina. Over the last year, approximately 5,000 state employees walked away from state service for greener pastures (better pay). Within the next five years, another 12,803 experienced state employees will be eligible for retirement. The State has 8,000 probationary employees. The average years of state service (experience) has dramatically dropped. In 2016, the average years of service was more than 12 years, today, the average is approximately 8 years.

There are approximately 8,000 vacant positions that need to be filled by qualified, capable and competent employees at critical agencies like the Department of Health and Environmental Control, the Department of Mental Health, Public Safety, Disabilities and Special Needs and the Department of Social Services. Of the state’s 10 largest agencies, ranked by employment, 9 have more than 10% of their needed positions vacant.

“We need to show teachers and state employees that we value their service,” said Rep. Norrell. “We always say we don’t have the money. Well, right now we do.”

“This is about more than what these hard-working public servants deserve,” said Rep. Smith. “It’s about what we all deserve. We want the very best working for us, and our spending priorities need to reflect that. For years, we’ve been sending the opposite signal.”

Therefore, Smith and Norrell support the proposal of the SCSEA, the SCEA and the PSTA.