How much it cost to bring SC legislature back for a special session
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - In the last five weeks, South Carolina lawmakers have finalized the state budget, enacted new abortion restrictions that are currently blocked from being enforced, and passed a bond-reform bill intended to close a revolving door of repeat offenders.
That all happened during a special session, the cost of which adds up to a six-figure bill.
Some say that price is justified to tackle the issues the General Assembly took up, while others are calling it a waste of taxpayer money.
South Carolina’s regular legislative session runs from mid-January to mid-May each year.
This year, Gov. Henry McMaster convened the legislature’s first special session in two decades to wrap up unfinished business.
It lasted just over a month, and every day lawmakers were at work, they were getting paid.
Legislators received a $260 salary payment each day they were in Columbia on official business during the special session. Only those members who were in attendance received the money.
Every member in attendance also got another $223.17 per day they were in session to cover meals and lodging, regardless of whether they live a block from the State House or hours away, plus a mileage reimbursement to make one roundtrip to and from Columbia if they were called in that week.
Over the course of the five-week special session, that added up to a $309,919 price tag.
The 124-member House of Representatives, in session for five days, was responsible for $264,167 of that total, while the 46-member Senate tallied up the other $45,751 over its three days in session.
“Whatever the cost is, if we get good things done, the cost is well worth it,” McMaster told reporters.
When the governor called the special session, he tasked the General Assembly with four priorities: to finalize the state budget, enact tighter abortion restrictions, pass a bond reform bill, and toughen up the penalties for illegal gun possession.
They got three out of the four done, leaving just the illegal gun penalties unfinished, though the governor has said the bond reform bill that reached his desk was not as strong as he wanted it to be.
“I just don’t see how fiscally, it made sense to bring us back for those days that we came back to talk about the issues that we discussed,” Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D – Orangeburg, said.
Cobb-Hunter, the longest-serving member currently in the House, believes everything they took up during the special session could have waited until they returned in January or been finalized earlier in the year, before the regular session ended May 11, had they made a point to get it done.
“I don’t think it had value,” she said. “I’m sure there are others — clearly, the leadership in this chamber disagreed with that, but I didn’t. I thought it was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, quite frankly.”
While state law requires the regular legislative session end at 5 p.m. on the second Thursday in May, the General Assembly typically reconvenes in Columbia in the weeks that follow that day to finalize the budget and conclude other unfinished business before they leave for the year.
But most years, the House and Senate put an agreement in place, called a sine die resolution, that outlines the reasons for which their leaders can call them back into session. Because that is categorized as a continuation of the regular session, lawmakers receive the subsistence payment for food and lodging and the mileage reimbursement, but not the $260 salary payment.
A disagreement between the chambers this year over filling the state’s vacant comptroller general position prevented a sine die resolution from being put in place.
That led McMaster to call the special session, with legislative leaders’ consent.
“If you do the job and get the work done while you’re there, we wouldn’t have to have special sessions,” McMaster said. “Everybody could go home and go to work in their real jobs and be with their families and not have to spend time here.”
Lawmakers’ special session payments are on top of the $10,400 annual salary they get for serving, along with monthly payments to cover in-district expenses.
McMaster told reporters Tuesday that calling the legislature back again this year to finalize the illegal gun penalties is still a possibility.
But barring unforeseen circumstances, leaders in the General Assembly say they do not plan to return to Columbia until next January, when a new legislative session begins.
SPECIAL SESSION COSTS:
House of Representatives:
- May 16: $71,454
- May 17: $56,047
- May 24: $3,513
- June 7: $66,585
- June 14: $66,563
- Total for May 16, May 23 and June 14: $45,751
Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.