by Alan S. Chartock
Saturday, November 13, 1999
There are people who believe that Gov. Paul Cellucci
doesn't deserve a 61 percent pay raise, taking him from $90,000 to $145,000
per year. They will say the same for Attorney General Tom Reilly's proposed
increase from $47,500 to $127,500 -- and ditto for Lt. Gov. Jane Swift
from $75,000 to $122,000.
They will insist that our elected leaders ran for and accepted their
jobs knowing full well what they were going to earn. Cynics will say that
no state or city or town workers, including the teachers who really work
for a living, are getting anything like these raises.
The nasty critics will also say that the Legislature, which just ran
its own pay scam, is only too happy to give out these raises since it makes
their greed look better. Some naysayers will even say that many of these
people have state troopers to drive them and expense accounts so great
that much of their salary is actually bankable.
The critics will also point out the governor has hardly been distinguishing
himself lately and almost everyone knows it. This is the same governor
who is insisting that teachers take tests to maintain their jobs. If merit
standards are appropriate for the teachers and the town and city workers,
the critics ask, why aren't they appropriate for governors? Why, it might
be asked, are we raising the pay of a governor who is going to have serious
problems getting re-elected? Are we actually rewarding incompetence?
I have a different take. Each of the state offices has tremendous responsibilities.
The attorney general, for example, is the head of a massive state law firm.
If he were a practicing attorney running a small law firm in the sticks,
you had better believe that he would be making at least his new proposed
salary of $127,500. In fact, if that was all he was making, his wife would
probably be reminding him that the kids needed braces and music lessons
and there isn't enough money in the checking account to cover it all. Put
another way, would you have a lot of confidence in a lawyer you thought
was only making $80,000 a year?
As it stands now, people who run for public office either have to be
rich (as most U.S. senators are) or have to take some pretty curious routes
to get meat and potatoes on the table -- like Jane Swift has been doing
with her questionable and incredibly lucrative teaching sideline at a university
that may ask for something from the government. As we raise the pay of
these folks, we are entitled to put more and more ethical constraints on
them in terms of outside employment.
There was once a TV commercial that put it this way: "You can pay me
now or you can pay me later." Either we pay these people what they are
worth or they have to find other ways to make ends meet. I believe we can't
possibly make an assessment on an individual basis. If we have a huge corporation,
we know that we can't buy the talent to run it unless we pay in the millions
of dollars plus stock options. I know one man, a lifelong public servant,
who would have made a great U.S. senator from New York. I have no doubt
that he would have won the office. However, a Senate seat pays about $133,000
and brings with it all kinds of ethical restrictions about not making anything
else on the outside.
Many people who are making far less than the proposed new salaries will
think this is all a bunch of nonsense. But when you look at the salaries
of some of our union workers -- or union leaders -- or of some doctors
who don't have nearly the responsibility of the governor, lieutenant governor
and attorney general, a dispassionate, reasoned look at the proposed new
salaries dictates that we can do little else but pay them what they are
worth. We will be able to recruit better talent, we will be able to avoid
the "rich boy syndrome" in which only the very well-heeled can run for
our top offices and, frankly, we'll still be paying these folks just a
fraction of what a similar job in industry might pay.
I share the frustrations of those who have little patience or understanding
about this, but we both want and deserve the best government we can find.
Paying people a small part of what they are worth makes an awful lot of
Alan Chartock is chairman and executive director of WAMC
Northeast Public Radio Network in Albany, N.Y., and a SUNY professor
of political science and communications. He makes his home in Great Barrington.
© 1999, 2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and Pittsfield
Publications, Inc. Reproduced here without permission.