- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina senators are proposing a 4 percent pay raise for state employees, doubling the amount offered by the House.

The Senate Finance Committee passed its $7.5 billion spending plan with almost no hassles and just about two hours of public discussion Thursday.

The House budget plan proposes a 2 percent increase. Senators said they felt state employees deserved a bigger pay hike because they haven’t had many raises in the past decade and because they went above their duties during last year’s flood.

“State employees, when that catastrophe came, they were out there day and night,” said Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman.

A half-percent of the pay increase will go toward employee pensions to help cover a shortfall. But the spending plans for both the House and Senate set aside $28 million to cover rapidly rising health care premiums for state employees.

The State Employees Association asked for a 5 percent raise, according to a letter written to Leatherman and obtained by The Associated Press.

“Employees do not feel they have been treated fairly in the past and they have kept the faith,” the letter said.

After the hearing, the association’s executive director, Carlton Washington, went up to Leatherman to thank him personally.

“They are some of the hardest-working people,” Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said of state employees. “We are so proud of the work they do.”

Most state employees have had just two raises and a bonus since 2008.

The Senate’s budget plan also raises teacher’s pay by 2 percent and increases the minimum amount teachers can be paid by years of experience by 2 percent.

The budget provides more than $300 million in additional money for education, with some of that going toward increasing technology and teacher retention in poorer districts that have sued the state.

The Finance Committee also approved taking $200 million and using it to borrow more than $2 billion over the next decade to fix roads.

Senators cut the amount spent on beach renourishment to $20 million. The House set aside $40 million.

The Senate plan matches the House’s proposal for $72 million in flood relief and adds $2.4 million back into the House spending plan for body cameras for police officers around the state.

“When I talk to people in my district, they support body cameras for all officers,” said Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney.

The budget must be approved by the whole Senate, which hopes to begin debate late next week. Then the House and Senate will have to work out their differences.

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