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The Pay-Raise Commission
Hugh McInnish

Hugh There 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 coiled rattlesnake.

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.


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