When the South Carolina House took three weeks of furlough this year to save taxpayers money, it saved about $150,000 in mileage reimbursements and food and lodging costs that House members are paid. But unlike most furloughs, House members' pay was not reduced at all, even though they weren't meeting those three weeks.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, says there's a practical reason for that. "Our salary is set by the laws of this state and the Constitution, so in order to tinker with that we'd have to go back and redo the Constitution and redo the statutes," he says.
But he says even if House members could easily have done it, the last thing they need is a pay cut. He's among the lawmakers who think they should be paid more.
"We call it the rich, the retired, and the retained," he says. "Only the rich can afford to serve down here, or those people that are retired and don't have anything else to do, or lawyers that are retained on other cases that are billed for their time. Other than that, most people cannot afford to serve in the General Assembly, and it's sad."
House members are paid $10,400 a year in salary and another $12,000 for in-district expenses. They also get reimbursed for one round-trip to Columbia per week they're in session, and per diem to cover food and hotels while they're here.
According to numbers obtained by The Nerve, a political website and blog, it cost taxpayers $3.85 million last year in salaries and expenses for SC House members. That works out to $30,806 per House member. That doesn't include the cost of staff members. The House's total budget for this fiscal year, which started July 1, is $21.67 million.
House members also started getting reimbursed this year for the cost of stationery, envelopes, and business cards. The average House member got $250.
Rep. Rutherford says, "For us to get $250 more to send out mail to our constituents, I don't see that there's a problem with that. In fact, the biggest problem that I have as the Minority Leader is trying to recruit candidates to run. We've had a number of Republican members that came from the Upstate that said they simply could not afford to be down here because the salary was not enough to compensate them for everything that they lost to do so."