If you asked the average person whether their elected representative to the County Legislature deserved a raise, you can be almost certain the answer would be a resounding, ‘No!’ Even if the county is fiscally solvent, most people do not appreciate giving raises to politicians with their hard-earned tax dollars. So perhaps understandably, asking for a raise usually is not on the top of the meeting agenda of any legislative body.
Still, raises do happen, with or without public input. As the Niagara County Legislature proved last week, they could vote themselves a raise, an additional $4,000 a year, which has been added to the 2018 proposed budget. Is the raise justified? There were numerous reasons put forward, citing the reduced size of the Legislature, the purported positive job performance of the legislators, and the length of time since the last increase.
The worthiness of a raise can be debated among reasonable people. In fact, that would probably be a good thing. If you deserve a raise, you should be able to explain why. Admittedly, many people may not accept the reasons, but a discussion of the merits would at least create a record of the rationale.
The 2018 raise for the Niagara County Legislature lacks the moral integrity of a reasoned discourse on whether the raise is warranted. Rather than have a public meeting on the subject, it was discussed behind closed doors after a previous statement indicated there would be no raise.
How convenient that this took place after the November 2017 election, which re-elected all of the members to office. Might the outcome been different if people were clear that the election was not just a performance validation, but also payroll enhancement?
Squeezing the pay hike into the budget at the last minute so it could meet the deadline for a public hearing notice for the entire budget is a weak reason to rush this decision.
The fact that the Legislature was reduced in 2012 from 19 to 15 members, meaning the representatives now have larger districts, could be a justifiable reason for a modest increase. As is the fact that it has been 17 years since the last raise. Most legislators make $15,075 a year, for a 30 hour per week job. That will increase to $19,075, which is $12.23 an hour, slightly more than the minimum wage of $10.40 that takes effect at the end of the year.
However, the determination of whether or not a legislator is worth that has been taken off the table. The raises are part of the budget, so while the public may speak out against them at the December 5 public hearing, the entire budget now weighs in the balance.
While it is largely too late now, one can only image the political landscape over the summer if raises were really on the agenda. Would there have been more competition (nine ran unopposed)? Would there have been a vigorous examination of the issues, positions and records of the incumbents? It makes you wonder.
A raise approved in the weeks following an election, obscured by the distracting holiday season, smacks of a deliberate effort to hide the maneuver. It feels cowardly, cynical, and unethical.
It may be legal, but it ain’t right.
When we raise our children and speak of things like integrity and courage, the 2018 Niagara County Legislature pay raise will not be on the list. When people are proud of their accomplishments, they speak of them openly and without shame.
Next year, if you are asked whether your legislator deserved the raise he or she received, your response will be, “I don’t know, they never asked.”
And that’s a shame.