South Carolina House lawmakers made an abrupt switch Tuesday, choosing to give themselves an increased allowance just minutes after they had voted to reject the idea.
The governor last week struck down budget language that would have doubled legislators’ in-district expense allowances. In a 73-39 roll call, House leaders initially failed to get a two-thirds vote that was needed to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto. But legislators tried again just moments later and were successful in a 73-29 vote after a net ten Republicans who had voted “no” did not cast their votes a second time. The measure now heads to the Senate, where it passed without a veto-proof majority in May.
The new proviso would allow lawmakers to be reimbursed for up to $2,000 each month (up to $24,000 per year) for in-district expenses related to their job, such as office costs or phone bills. That would be an increase from the current $1,000. State legislators currently receive a $10,400 per-year salary as part of their job in addition to the in-district reimbursements.
Gov. Haley was furious about the vote, calling it “unreal” in a Twitter post. “Unreal. The House just reconsidered & voted themselves a pay raise,” Haley tweeted. “After the vote failed Rep. (Rick) Quinn (R-Lexington) asked for it to be taken up again. Those who voted “Y” or “NV” (not voting) supported raising their own pay. Thank those who voted “N” and stood with us.”
Haley then posted an image showing who had voted which way during Tuesday’s roll call vote.
But Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, took to the floor to argue for the increase, saying legislators have not seen any increase in pay since 1995. “Districts have grown since that time by about 33 percent,” he argued. “They were 28,000 (residents per district) in 1990, now they’re closer to 38,000.”
Merrill said that many qualified candidates have decided against running for the Statehouse due to the part-time salary. “It’s a little bit contrary to most people’s thoughts,” he said. “They say they want better folks in the House of Representatives and the Senate, but nobody wants to pay them to come here.”
No one spoke against the raise during Tuesday’s House proceedings.
Some watchdog groups like the South Carolina Policy Council say they are concerned legislators do not have to report how they spend their $12,000 in claimed expenses, instead reporting it as income for tax purposes. Some members either do not use the option or don’t reach the $12,000 maximum. Legislators also receive up to $131 per day in “subsistence” payments for lodging and meals, up to 50 cents per mile for travel, and a $35 per-diem for legislative meetings they attend when the Statehouse is not in session.
The eleven members who first voted against the pay bump and did not vote a second time were Reps. Rita Allison, R-Lyman, Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, Ray Felder, R-Fort Mill, Craig Gagnon, R-Abbeville, Phyllis Henderson, R-Greer, Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, Shannon Riley, R-Hodges, Samuel Rivers, R-Goose Creek, Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, Anne Thayer, R-Belton, and Donna Wood, R-Boiling Springs.
One lawmaker Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, did not vote the first time but voted “no” on the second ballot. Quinn voted against the increase both times, but made the critical reconsider motion which led to the new vote.