Rep. John Richard C. King thinks members of the General Assembly should be paid $50,000, or nearly five times what they currently draw in salary. King, a York County Democrat representing District 49, pre-filed House Bill 3108 last week, but it’s not for the purposes of giving himself a raise.
King told Patch that the annual salary of $10,400 and the considerable time commitment to being a legislator are keeping good candidates from running for office. “This isn’t about me,” he said. “I believe we’re losing good people because they can’t afford to serve.”
“The reason you (work as a legislator) is because you believe in public service,” King said. “But people need to provide for their families, too.”
King noted that just about everyone in the legislature owns his or her own business, is an attorney or is retired, all of which allow for flexibility regarding time commitment. King, who was re-elected for a third term last month, is a funeral director.
Members of the House and Senate are required to be in Columbia three days a week, nearly six months of the year and are considered part-time employees. Every legislator is on at least one committee—some are on several—and those committees meet throughout the year. The legislators are given a per diem of $119 for food and lodging in addition to mileage reimbursements for their travel. They receive $1,000 per month to pay part-time staff or other expenses.
Under King’s bill, the salary of $50,000 would include per diem and travel money.
Garry Smith, a Republican representing District 27 in Greenville County, is opposed to increasing pay and doesn’t think the prospects of passing H. 3108 are too good.
“It doesn’t seem very likely (that the bill will pass),” he said. “I think there are resources in place that don’t make it necessary.”
But Smith said the time commitment required to be a good public servant is significant. He said he receives somewhere between 40 and 50 emails per day from constituents, has meetings with his county delegation and session on boards that he serves. For example, several members of the Greenville County Legislative Delegation sit on the Greenville Pickens Area Transportation Committee. Such groups are common across the state.
As a committee chair (Operations and Management), Smith has a staff member dedicated to him to whom he can delegate some responsibilities. More than three-quarters of the General Assembly aren’t as fortunate, and must use the staff available at the statehouse.
Relative to the rest of the country, South Carolina’s lawmakers are poorly compensated in terms of salary. Of the 41 states that pay legislators on an annual basis, the Palmetto State is fourth from the bottom as of 2011, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. However, reimbursement levels for travel, lodging and dining vary widely from state to state, so salary alone is not necessarily the best comparison.
King conceded that there is not much hope his bill will be passed. “I don’t think everyone in Columbia wants to open up the system,” he said. “It’s still a ‘good ol’ boys’ network.’ You have legislators who are afraid they’ll be defeated. I’m not afraid of that.”
The legislature begins the 2013-2014 session on January 8.
NOTE: King's bill would not go into effect until January 2015.