Raise game played very well
By: James Franco, The Record
Since it is the slow time of year I may as well re-visit the decision by the 19 esteemed county legislators to give themselves a $5,000 raise and take care of many of their friends as well.
They intentionally did it about a week before Christmas when not many are paying attention, so the more ink it gets the better.
With the increase, which was voted on about a month after they were elected to new four-year terms, rank-and-file legislators will make $20,000, the four in "leadership" positions will make $25,000 and Chairman Neil Kelleher will make $30,000.
And being a legislator is a part-time job, which includes attending one meeting a month, maybe two, and controlling only 20 percent of the budget. The state and federal governments tell them how to spend the rest. In other words, not a lot of heavy lifting - outside of the fact they raised taxes four years in a row.To put it into perspective, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, per capita income in Rensselaer County stood at $21,095, which is slightly lower than the state per capita income of $23,389.
Another way to look at it is that if a worker puts in 40 hours a week for a year at the state's new minimum wage of $6.75 an hour, he or she would make $14,040 before taxes are taken out. Ironically, or sadly, a portion of those same taxes would pay for the salaries and raises of the legislators.
Yet another way to look at it is an active duty Private First Class in the U.S. Army makes just $19,692 a year after six years of service. True, the soldier gets an additional $250 a month if he is shipped off to Iraq, free room and board and some stipends if he or she has a family, but I am not sure if they get a bump in their check if they get shot at.
Seems to me a full time soldier's pay should certainly equal what a legislator in Rensselaer County makes for a part-time job. Okay, maybe not the four in leadership positions - the majority leader, minority leader, vice chairman and vice chairman of finance are pretty high-powered positions that I am sure everyone in the county looks to for guidance and direction - but the base pay of someone getting shot has should make at least the same as a rank and file Legislator.
Furthermore the legislators rarely talk for themselves, have an original thought or write their own communications to the people. For that the Republican majority hired Rich Crist, and to show their gratitude they gave him a raise of nearly $11,000, bumping his salary up to $80,000. The minority has Sue Steele, whose salary was slashed four years ago when the Democrats lost two seats. It is unclear what salary she will get this year out of the $60,600 increase to the Democrats' budget.
To put it into perspective, an active duty Army captain makes $52,412 with the same benefits as that of a private first class, including getting shot at.The Republicans did it smart. They bought off the Democrats with extra money for their budget and their staff, and in return the Democrats did not make a stink over the vote - they just pocketed the money.
Two newly elected Democrats who had no vote on the pay raise, Kevin Harrington and Brian Zweig, are giving their extra $5,000 to charity, but so far they are the only ones to step up and do the right thing.The GOP also gave two popular politicians, County Executive Kathy Jimino and County Clerk Frank Merola, a $12,000 and $10,000 raise, respectfully, so the legislature doesn't look so bad. Jimino now makes $116,000 and Merola gets $80,000. At least they are pretty much in line with similar positions in the area, and they actually work for their money.
Not much of what you just read is new, but with the cost of electricity going up, gasoline prices going up and companies laying off workers all over the place, the more written about politicians paying themselves more money the better.
James V. Franco is The Record's Capitol Bureau reporter.
It's four years until the next legislative race. That's a long way and voters have short memories. It's up to everyone to keep this story alive. If taxes are raised next year, I suspect the story will have legs. In four years, vote out every hack who voted yes, regardless of party.