You Get What You Pay For: Not a penny more

In this edition of He Said He Said, Daniel and I take counterposing views on the matter of politician pay raises. Daniel makes the case for giving our politicians a pay increase, and I argue that we freeze salaries and halt increased budgets for political staff during tough economic times.

Penny, by Kasia/flickr
Photo by Kasia/flickr

There’s a low rumble out there, not unlike a scene from a thriller where the monster awakes, and it is the sagging collective confidence of the world economy as we try to find the bottom of this slump. We’re all being affected, and it’s only a matter of degrees by how much. Times are indeed tight and where it is going to hit the bottom line the hardest is in our cities.

There could be no more craven proposal in 2009 than to raise the pay and support for our politicians. Even the suggestion sends the hairs up on the back of my neck. The work forces in British Columbia’s civil service are getting a in ’09 because they negotiated a very good multi-year contract. Same goes for Vancouver’s civil servants – 17.5% over five years was agreed to in relatively happy times for Vancouver’s economy, the summer before last. I mention this only to remind everyone that there are ongoing and unavoidable cost increases that our governments must bear.

Our city councillors, school trustees and park commissioners do not get paid very much when compared to the management they work with, but it’s no matter to the homeowner who’ll pay another $128 in property taxes this year, next year, and the year after that. Our elected officials ran for office knowing the pay scale, and aware that our economy was suffering. It would be extremely egregious of them to argue for more under the circumstances.

There is a back-handed way for our elected officials to increase their net cost to taxpayers without the putting their hand out for a salary increase. They could increase their own staff and resources. In fact, some Vancouver city councillors have been musing on this very idea. The merits of this proposal are quickly countered by the fact that Vancouver’s councils have succeeded in governing with the existing resources for decades. Our overburdened ratepayers only have to ask, "why now?" loud enough to help Council to think twice about this.

The voter is not without compassion when it comes to our elected officials. If the money they earn is a hardship, then put it to a referendum ballot in 2011. Make the argument that the pay scale is not sufficient to attract our best and brightest into public life.

It is arguable that a Trustee, Commissioner or City Councillor is a glorified volunteer doing his or her best for their community. And their pay is more of a stipend than a real living wage. Those who run for office in our city very often are retired, come from low-paying sectors of our economy, or have means to enable them to work "for cheap." You therefore get the kind of roster who probably won’t get you into the playoffs, given they’re either old, poor, or comfortably well-off.

I’m talking City Council, not the Canucks by the way.

How much we pay our elected officials, and how much we pay to support their work is a dialogue that needs to happen with the public before being voted upon and approved by the politicians themselves. It will likely be an intense and vocal interchange of ideas from the public. It is also important, if only for the optics, that no pay raise happens mid-term of the current government.

Only after the tax paying public has had a real opportunity to weigh in, can we begin to consider increasing the renumeration for our elected officials.

You Get What You Pay For: City politicians deserve a raise
Pay freezes, tax hikes and social housing top cities agenda this week

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