The Pay-Raise Commission
is a move afoot by which our state legislators hope to slip a pay raise
for themselves by the voters. The selected ploy is to utilize a "Pay
Commission" to study the landscape, decide what can be gotten away
with, then impose it upon the taxpayers without the awkward necessity
of having the legislators themselves vote on it. Unfortunately several
of my best Republican friends voted for this most un-Republican enabling
legislation, and in consequence our party brethren have been whispering
about them incessantly. Whispering, because we loyal Republicans seldom
take issue with each other. Somehow we seem to have concluded that silence
will return our lost sheep to the fold and all will be well.
But I, being in an impatient mood, decided to break (one more) taboo and
raise my voice a few decibels above the orthodox whisper. Accordingly
I tactfully messaged Reps. Howard Sanderford and Jim Haney, two of the
more prominent Republicans who voted affirmatively on this measure, in
my opinion. I simply told them that the bill was "abominable"
and I asked that they reconsider their positions and consign the bill
to outer darkness, "never to be heard from again," I believe
I said. This modest e-mail of mine, seen by others, has elicited an encouraging
volume of responses. Virtually all Republicans, as I already knew, agree
that conservatives should retreat from this bill as they would from a
One friend, however, an attractive and intelligent lady, has filed a thoughtful
and strongly dissenting opinion, and it is this that claims my attention
at the moment. She holds the view that the appointment of a commission
is the only way to get "an objective, third-party, non-partisan,
and unbiased review of this situation." She further points out that,
"this is done all the time at the federal level, [resulting in] a
Blue Ribbon Commission [whose findings] are known as 'White Papers,'"
and that this commission method was used in Washington in resolving the
military base-closing issue.
I respond that the fact that something is done all the time in Washington
is far from being a convincing argument for us (or anybody else) to do
the same. Furthermore there are huge differences between what Congress
did with the base-closing scheme and what is now proposed here in Alabama.
In deciding which bases to close, Members of Congress had no personal
pecuniary interest in the decision. Rather the move was designed to save
the taxpayers money by closing unneeded bases. The Pay Commission proposal,
on the other hand, is exactly the opposite in both respects. The members
of the Legislature have a direct, personal pecuniary interest in the outcome,
and if enacted it will cost the taxpayers money, not save them money.
So the analogy fails. I can hardly imagine a more precise inversion of
motives and outcomes: Saving taxpayer money versus personal gain, and
decreased taxes versus increased taxes.
But, incidentally, suppose that the Legislature should decide to do something
that is analogous. Suppose they emulated what Congress did and constituted
a "College-Closing Commission," a commission charged to study
the unnecessary proliferation of junior colleges and other post secondary
institutions, and to recommend which to close. Then that would be a significantly
different matter and one which might be suitable for serious consideration.
My correspondent is also of the belief that "salaries for all elected
officials must keep pace with similar positions in industry, or we will
never be able to attract and maintain quality legislators." But where
is the evidence that shows that improving legislative pay increases the
quality of legislators? It may exist but I have never seen it or even
heard it alluded to. And I doubt that such is true.
What, then, is the case for a legislative pay raise? Inflation has been
relatively low lately, so no case can be made for a raise based on a higher
cost of living. That leaves the question of merit. Can a raise be based
on meritorious achievement? Which means we must ask, What are the outstanding
things the Legislature has done of late? What about the lottery bill which
they tossed out to us, the one that siphoned off the money and energy
of so many good people in the state before it was defeated? This is the
most outstanding thing that comes to my mind, but maybe I have forgotten
something. Perhaps others can enlighten me.
But even if a long list of meritorious achievements of the Legislature
should be brought forth I still would say, let the Members state their
case, vote a pay raise up or down, and take responsibility for it.