Tuesday, July 14, 2020

How Much Are Your Elected Officials Getting Paid?

Photo Credit: Jonathan O'Donnell - https://www.flickr.com/photos/jod999/27575169912

By: Alex Kack

How much are your elected officials getting paid? Do you know off the top of your head?

Last year where I live in Tucson, AZ there was a ballot initiative to raise the pay of our city council members, I enthusiastically supported the measure, most Tucsonans did not.

Approval of the City Council isn’t emphatically high, politicians are almost never particularly popular, why would the voters give them a raise? I wonder though, if many of those voters realized that this job pays only $24,000 and the last pay raise they received was 21 years ago, in 1999.

Is that a job you’d apply for?

Probably not. To give you a greater level of perspective on this, someone earning Arizona’s minimum wage makes an average of $24,960 annually, almost $1000 more per year then the people we entrust with our safety and the leadership of our city. This issue isn’t unique to Tucson or to Arizona, across the country leaders at the state, county and city levels are paid low annual wages.

There are multiple reasons that we’ve wound up in this situation. In many areas law makers and local executives are considered part time jobs. This would satisfactorily explain them earning low annual wages, if it were at all accurate to the reality of their duties. The truth is an elected official is never really off the clock, and even if they can get by putting in only 20-30 hours a week, would we actually want them too? Can we expect anyone to tackle and respond adequately to major crises or even the day to day, life and death scenarios that those in elected office have to be responsible for on a part time schedule?

This culture of low pay creates a number of leadership crises that have a negative impact both on the function of our public institutions and our faith in them. In no other career path would we expect to be able to recruit and hire the best possible candidates for the lowest possible pay.

Paying low wages to the people we entrust with so much responsibility invites incompetence and corruption while locking out working people and diverse voices. You either have to come to the job with personal wealth or work another job while performing your duty. It should be obvious that this creates too much room for conflicts of interest, both monetary and literally just of each individual elected official's actual time.

We’re essentially asking our leaders to choose between their duty to maintain and protect our communities and whatever responsibilities they may have to a job that actually pays their bills and feeds their families.

Efforts like Tucson’s failed ballot initiative continue to spring up around the nation in an attempt to address this foundational issue and often they continue to fail. In many areas only the voters can choose to give their officials a raise and even in those that allow elected officials to make those decisions themselves, few politicians would risk being seen as the person who voted to give themselves a raise.

You get what you pay for, is a cliche for a reason, and when we underpay the very people who manage and structure our society we’re not getting a deal, we’re robbing ourselves from living in the best possible version of our communities. It’s time for everyone in America to get paid a living wage and that includes the people we choose to lead us.

Alex Kack  does nothing of note, regardless please follow him on Twitter @alex_kack or on Instagram @alexkack

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