Thursday, December 11, 2008
Of Pay and the Politician
Roanoke (Va.) Mayor David Bowers (pictured) has made a modest proposal that he and members of Roanoke City Council be paid mileage for driving their cars short distances. City employees are paid 58.5 cents a mile for any trips they take and council members are paid that rate for longer trips. The city is facing a budget shortfall and Bowers' proposal (which has almost no chance of passing) is probably insensitive at this moment.
But it's a good proposal. I see no logical reason that our representatives should be reimbursed in a lesser manner than public employees. I believe City Council members' salaries should also reflect that they are valued. Bowers earns $20,000 a year as mayor and the six other members of council are paid $18,000 each. That's a total of $146,000 a year. City Manager Darlene Burcham makes $173,658 and change. Sure, it's a consuming, full-time job for her, but the way David works the mayor's chair is hardly leisurely. The other council members work far more than $18,000 would compensate in any other position.
We have a tendency in the United States to both undervalue and underpay our representatives. Virginia's General Assembly pays $18,000 for state senators and $17,640 delegates and the governor earns $124,855. You can argue that those legislators are part-timers (like city council), but that's hardly the case. Many a representative on every level has seen his business suffer because he chooses to serve the public with full energy and time (and take all that harsh criticism). The governorship, of course, is a full-time position, paid nearly $50,000 less than our city manager and roughly $40,000 less than the school superintendent. Which job is more demanding, more important to the most people?
I don't know that paying politicians higher salaries will make them more honest. I do know that nowhere in our society has that ever been tried.
(Update: Turns out that the Lord Mayor has already been dipping into the proposed short-trip fund and he promises to pay back the $230 he's already billed the city. Mason Adams, a good reporter for The Roanoke Times who covers the city, spilled the beans on the red-faced mayor in the Dec. 13 edition.)