GUEST OPINION: Public servants deserve raise

By on October 8, 2014

Reducing the salaries for local elected officials has become a popular position to take among candidates for local office. And it’s an easy sell to the public. After all, who likes politicians? They’re the easiest targets of all. And aren’t they supposed to serve the public altruistically anyway? Why wouldn’t we cut the county commissioners pay from $50,000 a year to $35,000?

But like many easy answers, this one is wrong.

Holding office is a job. Anyone who thinks your average politician just wants to serve the people should get their names added to the list of easy marks to cold-call about that bridge that’s still for sale.

It’s a job. And the people who take it are going to get paid; the only question is whether A) we want to pay them, B) we want to let them pay themselves at our expense, or C) let some special interest pay them off after they get out of office. Ironically, the same people who think politicians are scum also seem to think they they’ll “serve” us for free.

Currently, the only people who can take the job and do it properly are those who are wealthy enough to not work, or who own a business and have the flexibility. They probably find that their “service” will pay for itself because they’ll have an opportunity to influence the process in ways that help them out. Real estate investors, developers, building contractors and other business owners come to mind.

Anyone working at an hourly job or in a salaried position with office hours is basically disqualified. In other words: most of us.

If our elected officials don’t treat the office as a job, they won’t do the necessary research that is required to effectively legislate. In this case, one of two outcomes invariably presents itself: the elected official will either just take advice (read: orders) from those who have the most to gain or lose (special interests), or will find themselves unable to accomplish anything, which results in a de facto conservative government, unable to do more than maintain the status quo.

The status quo is great for those with money and power, but not so great for everyone else. The world is changing, and our local government needs to actively pursue change as well. It needs creative ideas. It can and should do things. There is a housing crisis. We need a local minimum wage. These things can and should be done, and they need to be done by competent people, not underpaid political hacks that regurgitate the same discredited ideological bullshit. Creating these plans takes time. It takes commitment. It takes people who will treat their elected position as a job, not as some ego-stroking sinecure or route to personal gain.

This is not to say there are no good elected officials. There are. I’ve been fortunate enough to know many of them. And we should do everything we can to attract more of them. Paying them a reasonable salary would be a good start.

If we gave every commissioner a $25,000 a year raise, it would cost $125,000. This seems like a lot, until you realize that it’s around .0063 percent* of the county’s annual income of around $2 billion. (Or approximately .0034 percent** of the county’s operating budget.)

If we want our local officials to treat their position as a job, we need to pay them as though we mean it. You get what you pay for, after all. And in Teton County, $35,000 a year ain’t getting you much.

*Bureau Of Economic Analysis, 2012

**Teton County 2015 Budget

About Pete Muldoon

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