Governor’s damaging plan | Opinion

Open letter to S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster:

I hope this letter finds you well after our Labor Day holiday. I find it disheartening, on the day after a holiday designed to commemorate and honor American workers, that I must write to you about a choice you are making that will greatly harm and jeopardize the livelihoods of workers in South Carolina that you now govern. You are taking a stance against your own public employees by seeking to remove their pensions and retirement plans because of actions over which they had no control.

I find it not only heartless but also ill-conceived to wish to alter the benefits of current and future public workers in our state and would ask that you reconsider this position before it does irreparable damage to our state, its economy and the lives of our workforce.

As I read positions you are taking on the state’s retirement crisis, I see a variety of hardships your stance will create for the state as a whole, for every county and for the numerous employees across South Carolina who have paid into the retirement system in good faith, with a full expectation that the state would be able to provide them with the benefits promised when they opted to work as a state employee rather than pursue jobs in the private sector that would offer better pay.

But Gov. McMaster, I am from a small rural county in South Carolina; I represent Bamberg County on its county council. I see firsthand how your ideas to convert the pension system to a 401(k) plan and raise the retirement age for the state will place an extremely undue burden on these smaller, poorer areas of the state where attracting employees is already difficult.

I also see how these poor decisions of leadership will continue to keep South Carolinians impoverished, unable to maintain even a minimum standard of living, as your policies seek to undermine any financial surety they attempt to create for themselves as they approach retirement age.

With reduced benefits and uncertain pension accounts, state employees will be relocating to other jobs in the private sector, leaving all counties struggling to provide public services to citizens. In smaller, poorer, rural counties like Bamberg — the hometown of your predecessor, where salaries are already significantly lower than larger, wealthier counties, such as the one in which you currently reside — many employees have opted for state career positions for the promise of good benefits and a reliable retirement plan. You have now pulled the rug from underneath these employees and from the employers who rely on a competent workforce to serve South Carolinians daily.

Attracting and maintaining quality employees will become impossible in these smaller counties, as teachers, firefighters and local government employees will relocate to other areas and find careers in other states where benefits are more certain.

Smaller counties — such as Bamberg, Barnwell, Allendale, Kershaw, etc. — cannot compete with larger counties’ salaries, but we could always provide the same strong, reliable benefits. We won’t have that any more with your decisions. Our citizens, our children, our cities will suffer greatly at your hands for dismantling the state retirement system.

Most employees of the state in these smaller regions already struggle to make ends meet. I see this daily and I cannot stand by quietly as I see my fellow citizens suffer at the hands of their own leaders who have taken office to protect them and their interests but are now undermining them, making it increasingly more difficult for them to live and thrive happily in South Carolina.

My family is a victim of these changes, as well, as my wife is a public school teacher in South Carolina. She took a significant pay cut to relocate to Bamberg County schools from Daniel High School. Still she knew that students in Bamberg County deserved the same opportunities at education as students in wealthier parts of the state. Her salary cut, however, is felt constantly by our family, as we have four children to raise and consider ourselves paying higher taxes each year with less money in our pockets.

And now the state wants to significantly undercut the pension system we have relied upon for retirement. It seems cruel and unfair to treat hardworking employees, citizens and voters of your own state in such a manner.

While these decisions you are making impact the entire state, I feel as though rural South Carolina is often forgotten or, even worse, we have been abandoned by the state and its leadership, as we will no doubt suffer more because of your indifference to the retirement system’s stability. I would invite you and any member of the Legislature to visit Bamberg County and see the levels of poverty we experience daily. I challenge each of you to come and look in the face of our hardworking employees, the teachers here and across the state, and anyone endangered by what you are about to do, and explain to them why their years of loyal service to South Carolina are about to be disregarded as you work to remove their pensions from them and undercut their benefits in a way that will no doubt prevent some employees from retiring ever — as they will not be able to bear an annual cost of living that would exceed the fluctuating payouts of a 401(k) plan dictated by a volatile stock market that nearly crashed out less than a decade ago and has only recently shown signs of steady recovery.

I hope you will weigh the contents of my letter and consider my plea that you reconsider your position on the changes you wish to make to the state retirement plan. My hope is that you, as governor of this state, will act compassionately and in the interest of the public employees — who are also citizens and voters in this state — as you work to salvage the state’s retirement system.

Consider the repercussions your actions will have for decades to come on our workforce, our ability to hire and provide services and the livelihoods of our own people.

Trent Kinard is a member of Bamberg County Council.

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