The leaders of two groups that represent state employees have filed with the South Carolina Supreme Court asking them to stop a powerful board from increasing how much those employees will have to pay for health insurance.
Carlton Washington, Executive Director of the SC State Employees Association (SCSEA), filed the suit along with the president and vice-president of the South Carolina Education Association. Washington says the Budget & Control Board– a part legislative, part executive commission chaired by Gov. Nikki Haley– overstepped its authority when it required employees to pay more for their premiums last week.
“The governor left us no recourse other than to pursue legal action,” Washington told South Carolina Radio Network. The lawsuit is the second against the board, joining another filed by USC chemistry professor Thomas Bryson on Monday.
Under the rates set by the board last week, state employees would see a 4.6 percent rise in their premiums this year– or about an average increase of $7 per person.
In its budget, the General Assembly had required state agencies to shoulder the entire increase in workers’ premiums. However, the Budget & Control Board voted 3-2 to instead split the costs between the state and its employees. The B&CB ultimately oversees the state health plan as part of its duties.
Haley defended the board in a Wednesday op-ed, saying lawmakers had set aside enough money to cover the entire increase but did not actually require the money be spent. She said there also was no explicit language that required employee contribution rates to stay the same.
That authority, the governor wrote, goes to a new agency created this year called the Public Employees Benefit Authority (PEBA). PEBA, once its members are appointed, would recommend insurance rates to the B&CB. Because that agency does not yet exist, Haley said the board acted on its behalf.
“Last week, I encouraged the Board to share the increase equally between the taxpayer and the state employees, saving the taxpayers almost $6 million every year,” Haley said.
Washington said the move was unprecedented and created a separation-of-powers issue, “The (board) does not have the authority to assume the identity of another entity… and then vote on the recommendation that they made when they assumed the other identity,” he said. “That’s not legal. You can’t do that.”