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#SCStateHouse: Pay Lawmakers More (A Lot More)

No, our website hasn’t been hacked. There’s a method to this madness …

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For years, this website has consistently mocked South Carolina’s self-defeating habit of rewarding incompetence.

This is, after all, one reason why the Palmetto State continues to produce such consistently abysmal outcomes: Economicallyfiscallyeducationally and with regards to infrastructurepublic safety and other core functions of government.

Despite massive increases in taxingborrowing and spending – things just keep getting worse for the state’s citizens and taxpayers.

Why on earth, then, would we propose a massive increase in annual salary for the people who are directly responsible for this ongoing disaster?

Good question …

Over the last few years it has become abundantly clear that in addition to its many other problems, South Carolina’s state government is rife with corruption – especially within its all-powerful legislative branch.

We’re seeing a sliver of that coming to light via the ongoing #ProbeGate investigation, but it’s just that – a sliver.

Self-dealing at the S.C. State House runs far deeper than what this ongoing investigation has uncovered …

In fact, pervasive corruption on the part of our state’s elected officials is a root cause of virtually all of South Carolina’s other problems.

At a time when we desperately need citizen legislators representing the interests of the taxpayers in Columbia, S.C., our legislative branch is littered with thieves.  And special interest whores.  And the consequences of their servitude to these insider interests has never been more acutely on display.

Seriously … #NukeGate, anyone?

Things have gotten out of hand … and barring a radical reinvention of the way our state approaches governance at all levels, it’s only going to get worse.

Unfortunately, the system isn’t structured to allow such a reinvention.  It is structured to perpetuate itself.  Or more precisely it is structured to enrich itself … at our expense.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Last month, we were paid a visit by a source who was considering challenging a sitting state lawmaker in next spring’s partisan primary elections.

This individual – a tradesman – is a man of modest means.  He was upset over the #NukeGate scandal and wanted to run against one of the “Republican” legislators at our State House who is quite frankly part of the problem.

“I’d run,” he told us, “but I can’t afford it.”

He’s right, too.

Lawmakers in South Carolina are paid $10,400 a year in base salary – not counting benefits.  On top of that they can claim $12,000 on expenses within their districts, and beyond that they receive around $10,000 in “per diem” expenses over the course of a typical six-month legislative session.

Add it all up and that’s $32,400 – which is actually below South Carolina’s anemic median household income.

Oh, and it usually costs at least twice that much to campaign for – and win – a seat in the S.C. House every other year.  State Senate races (especially those in major media markets) are even costlier.  Hell, S.C. Senate president Hugh Leatherman – arguably the most corrupt legislative leader in Columbia – spent nearly $2 million on his reelection bid last spring.

In other words, the only people who can run for elected office in the Palmetto State are either independently wealthy – or bought and paid for.

How can we change this?

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

A few ideas …

First, we need to raise legislative salaries to a level that allows smart, well-intentioned people an opportunity to do the job on a full-time basis.  We don’t know precisely what that amount is, but for the sake of argument let’s just say it’s $80,000 a year.

Were the current compensation level for all 170 members of the S.C. General Assembly to be raised to that amount, state spending would increase by $8 million a year.

(To put that number in perspective, click here).

Why would we do something so crazy?

Because this $8 million increase would be accompanied by the most draconian anti-corruption measures South Carolina state government has ever seen.

First, lawmakers wouldn’t see a dime beyond their inflation-adjusted salaries (and defined benefits available to all other state employees).  No more “in-district” or “per diem” payouts.  Just their salaries and benefits. Period.

Second, the higher legislative salary level we’re proposing would be accompanied by an absolute ban on lawmakers receiving government contracts or other taxpayer-funded compensation of any kind.  The same ban would extend to their relatives and businesses.

Third, lawmakers would no longer be allowed to accept gifts of any kind – from anyone.  Basically if you become a state lawmaker, Santa Claus forgets your name.  Not even a lump of coal in your stocking on Christmas morning.

Fourth, lawmakers whose campaigns receive contributions from specific entities would be barred from sponsoring legislation or casting votes related to those entities.  They would furthermore be required to either recuse themselves in such cases, or return the campaign contributions they received.

Fifth, there would be a lifetime ban on lawmakers becoming lobbyists.  No waiting period.  No window.  A permanent ban.

Sixth, whatever new ethical prohibitions end up being put in place (and this is far from an exhaustive list) there must be real accountability in terms of enforcement.  That means lawmakers accused of violating the new ethics act would be subject to standing charges in open court like the rest of us – as opposed to being allowed to hide behind their corrupt self-policing committees.  Furthermore, there would be a minimum sentence of one year behind bars for violators.  No early release.  No probation.  No exceptions.

These are just a few of the new restrictions we would put in place but the bottom line is simple: As #ProbeGate, #NukeGate and dozens of lesser scandals/ status quo machinations have made plain, our current structure is a breeding ground for corruption.

Radical change of that structure is required …

 

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