You may be wondering about all the fuss over “COLA” last week at the State House so I wanted to share a little sunshine on the matter.

For several months, the State Treasurer’s Office has been looking into ways to stabilize our state retirement system(s). A Task Force looked into this matter and gave recommendations that were included in a bill that came up last week. When I say recommendations, there was not a recommendation to give a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) to the General Assembly. That retirement fund is pretty much stabilized. There was a recommendation for a COLA increase to the other TWO plans.

But last week the House passed a COLA bill on a VOICE VOTE that would have provided a 2% Cost of Living Adjustment to three retirement systems in our state: State Employees, Police Officers, and the General Assembly.

I repeat, on a VOICE VOTE the House approved giving all three of those systems a 2% raise.

There was no debate on the House floor.

For many in the Chamber, the General Assembly increase was a surprise. Even for those that would want to support it, shouldn’t there be a floor debate on the merits – especially since many did not even know what the bill did? For many, it was too little/too late to be able to stop that train because the voice vote came and went. There’s debate on why/how a roll-call vote didn’t happen but I do know a legislator asked for one. Was it too late? Was it not heard? Was it withdrawn? That’s all debatable. I do know that when a roll-call vote goes 25-72 one way, the ASSUMPTION is that the next vote (in this case a voice-vote) supports the recorded vote and so a roll-call actually should not be necessary. Somehow the voice vote went the other way than the recorded vote though??

Fortunately, the next day, fifty-eight members of the House then voted to recommit the bill to the Ways and Means committee in hopes the committee could then remove the General Assembly raise and move forward with the other two – State Employees and Police Officers. Bascially, at that point it was the best option to avoid this non-debated, non-recorded vote for a “pay raise” for elected officials. So at least the General Assembly COLA was stopped but what about the other retirees? State employees and Police Officers – their’s was stopped too. To fix that, the bill needed to be amendmend in committee because it could not be amended on the floor anymore.

Now, follow me here…..THAT SAME DAY, a bill was introduced that REMOVED the General Assembly portion of that equation but still gave the 2% increase to two retirement systems – State Employees and Police Officers. I thought there was hope.

The sponsor asked for it to go “without reference” (meaning: let’s get it immediately on the floor for a vote instead of sending it to a committee where it could take weeks to come out) but a House member objected to that so the bill then had to go through the commiteee process and it is now sitting in the Ways and Means Committee.

We’re just days from the May 1 “crossover-deadline” and that means it’s going to be very tough for either bill (the original bill to be amended to remove the General Assembly OR the newly filed bill without the General Assembly) to become law this year.

At least there was an attempt to ammend the original bill yesterday in the full Ways and Means Committee – but that was objected to also.

It has been my intention (and several others) to try to pull the new bill (no General Assembly increase) from committee to the House floor – but ithat also requires unanimous consent. That means if only ONE House member (out of 124) objects on the floor, it can’t come out. In fact, just today the bill’s sponsor tried to pull it out but there was an objection.

Now…you be the judge. What’s going on here?

I’ve heard some talk from colleagues that “..after having more time to look at it, the state can’t afford the increase right now….maybe Governor Sanford is right….the state already has a huge liability with the Retirement Systems…..we shouldn’t do anything….not good timing.”

Uh…yeh….that’s it. Folks got “fiscal conservative” all of a sudden, huh? Or could it be something else?