When working in the private sector, pay raises are contingent on one or a combination of 3 things: The merit and successes of the individual, the current and projected health of the organization, and the health of the overall economy. Because of the final factor (and its contributions to the second), annual raises of any measurable size have become something of a rarity since the start of the Great Recession. Consider that for the fiscal year ending this past May, the growth in American production wages grew at their lowest rate - 1.7% - in 47 years. That’s a full percentage point below the alleged (and understated) rate of inflation of 2.7%.
Despite the working class facing such tumultuous times, the political class thinks they are free of such encumbrances. It has been the buzz in Albany that state legislators are looking for a raise this year. They currently make a base salary of $79,500 and want to take it up to $100,000, an increase of more than 25%.
When you consider the 3 factors behind raises, our senators and assemblyman aren’t deserving of a $20,500 raise, let alone one of $1,351 (which is what it would be were they to see just 1.7% like their constituents).
Let’s first consider the merits of in the individual. $79,500 is a rather exorbitant sum to be paying a part-timer. These positions were devised to offer regular people a chance to contribute to the development of the Empire State by having sessions for 6 calendar months per year and during those sessions mandating 0 to 4 days per week in the state capital (the Assembly’s legislative calendar for 2012 showed only 66 in-session/budget days for the period of January through June). When the 6 months were up or when the legislature wasn’t in session during the week, the legislators could go back to their “real jobs” on the farm, in their offices and plants, or at home raising their families. Sadly, the system been mutilated so much that people are led to believe that being a legislator is a full-time, year-round job equipped with regional offices and full-time staffs. Realistically, under such circumstances, one could look at the second half of the year as being nothing more than politics, rather than policy, a means to perpetuate incumbency through alleged necessity and importance (really, what does attendance at parades and dinners contribute to the overall welfare of our state?). So, we need to look at the seats for what they are - and what they should be – and realize that we cannot permit their income growth.
Now, let’s look at the organization through which they are employed. The state government is facing a $2 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2013, which follows budget gaps of $10.4 billion in 2012, $8.5 billion in 2011, $21 billion in 2010, and $7.4 billion in 2009. If the fiscal health of the state is directly attributable to their budgets, the laws that they introduce, and the tough-but-necessary cuts they are afraid to make, then how, just by looking at those 5 years alone, do the legislators deem themselves worthy of reward? If anyone ran a company like they run a state, that individual would be among the ranks of the unemployed, either through termination or the total collapse of their firm.
And, it’s that factor that leads to the last: the overall health of the economy. Every bill among the hundreds passed every year by the legislature (571 this year) either steals rights and freedoms or adds to the cost of living and doing business in New York State. Because of that, businesses face incomprehensible government-created financial burdens when compared against their competitors from other states. My company, one of thousands across the state, pays an extra $740,000 per year to do business in New York (refer to my 2008 column “Why your loved ones have left NY” at http://tinyurl.com/ConferNY). That has forced businesses to stagnate/downsize/close/leave, which in turn has caused the same to happen to our residents, young and old alike: In the period from 2000 to 2010, 3.4 million people left New York State (2.1 million more arrived, but it still contributed to a net loss of 1.3 million people).
It’s that final factor of assessing job performance that is the most damning to our legislators. They are complicit in the destruction of the once accurately-named “Empire State”. They’ve driven our government to ruin, which has done the same to our economy and each and every one of us in it. Only a politician would think they deserve a bigger paycheck for that.
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally ran in the 13 August 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers