Editorial: AROUND THE STATE --- Elected officials don’t need raises before teachers
South Carolina has a teacher shortage that forced schools to rely on substitutes and international teachers even before COVID-19 sent them scrambling for extra teachers for now-smaller classrooms. We can’t attract enough correctional officers to keep our prisons fully staffed, or enough social workers to keep an eye on the children and vulnerable adults we know are at risk. And the list goes on, in numerous unglamorous but essential jobs, because, as the market demonstrates with those shortages, we don’t pay enough or offer attractive enough work environments to persuade qualified people to take the jobs.
Yet while legislators make little adjustments that are mildly helpful but insufficient to address these actual problems, their main interest remains making the easiest-to-fill jobs even more attractive.
On April 7, the House rushed through a bill to raise the pay for the now-appointed adjutant general as well as the attorney general, education superintendent, treasurer, secretary of state and other statewide elected officials whose jobs are established in the state constitution. (The sponsors, Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith and Judiciary Chairman Chris Murphy, wanted to raise the salary for the governor and lieutenant governor as well, but Gov. Henry McMaster asked them not to.)
We don’t know yet how much pay will go up, but the move comes two years after the Legislature increased salaries for judges, solicitors and public defenders by more than a third, raising the average pay from $140,000 to $190,000.
Apparently legislators are embarrassed that the salary for our comptroller general is the lowest in the nation, our education superintendent is the third-lowest and the attorney general is fourth lowest. What ought to embarrass them is the pay for those crucial positions we can’t fill.
It’s true that constitutional officers’ pay hasn’t been increased since 1994. But it’s also true that all but one of the constitutional officers (like every judge and solicitor) ran for office knowing what the pay was and knowing it was unlikely to increase.
And that part about “ran for office” is key: Candidates had to pay a filing fee and grovel for campaign donations and in other ways subject themselves to the rigors of a political campaign — sometimes fending off several challengers who also wanted the job — in order to be allowed to take the jobs that our legislators believe are insufficiently compensated. Obviously the officeholders, and the candidates they defeated, don’t consider the salary insufficient.
Even given all that, we don’t object to adjusting constitutional officers’ salaries more than once every 27 years. It would make sense to give them the same across-the-board pay raises (typically 2% or so) that the Legislature gives most state employees from time to time.
What does not make sense is the scheme envisioned by H.3786: to have a special panel determine an appropriate raise every four years “based on each state constitutional officer’s job duties and responsibilities as well as the pay of other state constitutional officers in other states.”
Current state law gives the same $92,000 salary to the secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, comptroller general, superintendent of education, agriculture commissioner and adjutant general — with a higher salary to the governor and lower to the part-time lieutenant governor. H.3786 would set a separate salary for each officer.
Now, it certainly makes sense to pay more to such vital officials as the education superintendent and attorney general than the secretary of state and agriculture commissioner. But any individualized salaries should be based on job performance — which is not something an appointed commission should evaluate for elected officials. (We wonder how legislators would like the commission to set individualized salaries for them, based on how well it believes they do their jobs.)
More significantly, the idea that what we pay our statewide elected officials should be in any way related to what other states pay is just as ridiculous as the idea that our judges’ salaries should be related to the pay for judges in other states.
The fact is that unlike teachers, prison guards, social workers and just about every other state employee, people who want to be governor or attorney general or treasurer can’t just pick up and move to Georgia or North Carolina to get a higher salary, because they don’t have the political network to get elected in those states. As with judges, it’s a buyer’s market for elected officials.
Unless our legislators want to make the argument that we’ve got a bunch of extra tax money we can’t find a good use for or that we can’t find any competent candidates to run for statewide elected offices, there is no way to justify raising these salaries by more than the modest cost-of-living increases other state employees sometimes receive.
Here’s how we’ll know it’s time to give larger pay raises to constitutional officers: when we have as much competition for open positions as teachers and prison guards as we have for these elected offices.
From The Post and Courier of Charleston.