Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Wednesday pay-raise chat

Not dissipating, just diversifying.
  • Governor Rendell stops hedging and goes on the record criticizing the move to take pay-raises early via "unvouchered expenses." Currently 149 out of 253 state legislators are slated to take the early dose.
    Lawmakers are receiving the added pay now as reimbursement for expenses, though they don't have to provide proof that they ever spent a dime out of their own pockets. The so-called unvouchered expenses are the same as salary in all respects but name. They are identical in amount, are taxed the same and count toward pensions.
    Rendell cites a deluge of outraged correspondance and his own [belated] sense of propriety. He also got booed at a recent appearance...

  • William Bunch decries the vote-linked demotions as an immoral form of extortion being exercised by party leadership. He doesn't hold out much hope for plans to make such moves illegal, however.

  • An Inquirer comment piece says we should thank the legislators who voted for this raise for getting people reinterested in politics at a time when they're usually more focused on firing up the BBQ than in civic activism.
    It's a great day when Pennsylvanians can rattle off a legislator's car allowance (up to $650 a month), legislative session per-diem ($128), and annual salary ($81,050) as easily as they can recite Donovan McNabb's passing stats. Why? Because when Election 2006 arrives and incumbents want to say what they are doing for us in Harrisburg, we can ask why we should be doing this for them.
    Hard to argue with that.

  • John Baer reports that it's not just the cranky guy on the street who's upset about the pay-raise, but he's even hearing from disgruntled legislative aides and other insiders.
    I get a note from a legislative aide in a leadership office saying that the size of the pay raise (at least 16 percent, twice that for many) is "sickening" given that staff just got a 3.5-percent cost-of-living increase and Gov. Ed once froze wages for 80,000 working-class state employees.
    . . .
    I understand a throw-the-bums-out mentality; it's easy from a distance to damn the damn politicians.

    But when people who know and work closely with them grouse, people inside the system, then something's going on.

    And what's going on is sustained anger against so-called public servants putting themselves ahead of the public they supposedly serve. What's going on is the realization that politicians often powerless to find funds for mass transit, Medicaid, and increased minimum wage show all sorts of power when it comes to finding money for themselves.
    He also reviews the wide range of citizen actions and groups growing out of the sense of misplaced priorities.


Blogger Dumplingeater said...

There was an interesting interview with Baer and a couple of State Reps. on WHYY's Radio Times yesterday. I have to say, while I am against the pay raise, certainly against the voucher set-up, and think the legislators were begging for trouble in the way they approved the increases in pay, I thought many of the criticisms voiced against Baer were pretty valid, to wit:

To say that they snuck the pay raise through in the middle of the night, which is a spin of a lot of the publicity, seems disingenuous, or perhaps just unintentionally misleading. Apparently, it is typical for them to have final approval votes on budgets late at night, regardless of whether they contain controversial elements.

To say that PA legislators are the second highest paid legislators in the country is misleading. Yes, PA legislators represent relatively few constituents -- still, there are only four full-time legislatures -- so in a sense, they rank 2 out of four, not 2 out of 50.

I found it important that the legislators explained that for some, accepting the pay raise may have been a compromise they made in order to gain approval for other elements of the budget, such as environmental initiatives.

The point was also made that it is not appropriate to tie legislator pay raises in with specific votes on specific issues. Suppose the legislature had voted on approving a raise in the minimum wage bill, would they then deserve their pay raise? Would then people who are against raising the minimum wage have a valid rationale for saying the legislators are overpaid?

The last point I found interesting was in response to the argument that it's unfair that they can just vote themselves a pay raise, something no on else has the opportunity to do. The fact of the matter is that as the system is currently set up, they can't get any pay raises unless they vote themselves one. Supposedly, although they have been getting cost of living increases, they haven't had any pay raises in a few decades. Although their responsibilities don't increase, and in that sense they may not exactly deserve salary step-ups -- suppose someone has been a Rep. for 20 years; shouldn't they get some for of increased compensation for their seniority? The problem there is that when they vote a pay raise, they all get the raise -- there is no structure to reward longevity of service.

I guess my overall point is, again, that I think there are reasonable arguments on the other side of this issue that need to be heard and logically addressed, not drowned out. And I worry that Baer's pieces are not sufficiently even-handed. He can certainly attract a lot of readers by bashing the money-grabbing legislators. And some of those he's bashing are allies on liberal causes.

10:07 AM  
Blogger ACM said...

Well, for what it's worth, all of these points have been made in the coverage over the last couple of weeks, so while individual pieces may be more ranty than balanced, the story has been out there.

I don't disagree with the right of the legislature to vote itself a raise, nor do I presume to have more insight into the justification for those votes than do the people making them (and we do have a much more complicated government than do many states). Of course, doing it in a year when you're cutting Medicaid and making other sacrifices seems poor judgement, and clearly they could have managed the appearances a bit more on many fronts.

As for the tit-for-tat, of course it isn't strictly true that they should "earn" their own raises by largesse to other folks around the state. But raising their own pay 4 times in a decade while letting the minimum wage languish (as surrounding states have raised theirs) is a bit shameful (although not all the legislators are holding up the latter, of course), and I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that the legislators make a gesture (even if that's all it is) toward recognizing those who haven't done so well (or had even cost-of-living to help them out). I'd prefer that they did it because it was right, but if shame and public outcry is what is needed, then so be it. Those who were already allies shouldn't see themselves as the targets of NN's action; yes, they're being painted with the same brush, but the fact is that we're trying to move the obstacles to economic justice, who have already proved that a sense of civic decency is insufficient motivation -- perhaps a few flaming torches will prod them to generosity out of a sense of butt-covering.

It's sad that public debate needs outrage to drive action, but I honestly don't think that either the press or the activists have generated the outrage itself; we are just attempting to funnel it into a sense of empowerment and possibly into effective action. For that matter, the very fact that ordinary folks (as opposed to political junkies) are becoming informed and opinionated about how their government works is a fantastic development, even if nothing else is achieved out of all of this. No single voice (Baer's or anybody else's) has the whole truth, but there's a lot to be learned from the interfacing of all the partial truths...

Just my two cents for the morning.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Dumplingeater said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but a few quick responses:

First, according to the Reps on the radio, they have only voted pay raises infrequently. Is your stat of raising their pay 4 times in a decade a matter of definition (it depends on what you mean by "is?), or were they "obfuscating."

Not raising the minimum wage is shameful, no doubt. And I completely agree that pressuring the legislators to raise it is what needs to be done. But two (that I know of )of those who voted for the pay increase are also legislators who sponsored a bill to raise the minimum wage. Hmmm.

I don't think I disagree with your overall point at all. By I still really question how solid and long-lasting support is when it is based on outrage. What happens to that support when the outrage dissipates? The fact that this issue has raised awareness of who's doing what to whom and when they're doing it, is an unmitigated benefit.

By the way, my comments this time were not really directed at NN or other activists -- more so at the way I've perceived press coverage. Although I personally am still struggling with NN's position on connecting the minimum wage to the outrage over the legislative pay raises, I well recognize the fact that I'd be hard-pressed to find any other NN member who would have similar questions.

10:54 AM  

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