Salary Expectations

May 22, 2014

Inside Insight

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ariail salary expectationsINSULT, INJURY, ETC.

If someone new to speaking English wants an explanation of the phrase “add insult to injury,” it should be this: a bunch of politicians who abuse their positions in order to enrich themselves complaining that their salaries are too low.

Specifically, South Carolina lawmakers want a huge pay raise. Why? Because a study – a study they paid for – showed other states’ lawmakers are paid more than they are. The fact that our citizens’ incomes are almost the lowest in the nation didn’t, apparently, figure into their reasoning.

That’s got a healthy dose of insult and injury.

This has got to be the worst timing in the history of the state for senators to slip in a $12,000 pay raise. The economy is barely moving while the state budget is growing every year (mostly from federal money), and small businesses are being squeezed to death by oppressive regulations and fees.

And then there’s the corruption. Not only is our House Speaker – the state’s most powerful politician – under investigation by a grand jury on corruption allegations. Legislators are defying public pressure to change laws that protect their ability to make money in “creative” ways as a direct result of being in the legislature (illegal in other states, but not in ours!).

And there’s more. This is South Carolina, so we haven’t even gotten to the best part. A judge, in what could most delicately described as a “lucky break” for our Speaker, ruled that the Attorney General no longer has his constitutionally granted authority to investigate lawmakers for corruption arising out of the Ethics Act unless the legislative “Ethics Committees” give permission.

That “last straw” (and let’s pray that it is the last straw – the state Supreme Court is up next to determine if the outrageous ruling stands) should have had state lawmakers falling over each other to denounce the assault on the rule of law and pledge to finally fix our broken state government.

Instead, some state senators are whining about how underpaid they are. The stories they told about how they have to pay their charitable contributions out of their campaign accounts (yep, you read that right) and how much it costs to fill up their cars (for which they already get mileage reimbursement) no doubt brought tears to the eyes of their most high-paid staffers, but I can promise them few tears were shed outside the State House.

Here’s the blunt bottom line: South Carolina lawmakers are running the most corrupt government in the country. Legislative leaders have a monopoly on power, and we are finally seeing the inevitable results in the rampant corruption that has gone unchallenged (until now). Their leadership isn’t just disgraceful; it’s dangerous. Legislators have eroded trust to the lowest in the history of the state, and that extends to every branch of our government. They are fighting the most diverse citizen coalition in state history to protect their ability to enrich themselves at our expense. Almost all of them have been silent (along with our governor) while the most powerful politician in the state makes a mockery of the law and uses his power to punish those of us who challenge him.

And now they want a raise.

I have a counter-offer. They can have their extra $12,000 a year, but they will actually have to earn it. We want all eight of our reforms to end the concentration of power and secrecy. Start with giving judicial appointments to the governor with advice/consent of the Senate (the reason for that one should now be obvious). Then eliminate authority of Ethics Committees over all matters except internal discipline. Then mandate full disclosure of every single source of their income. And close loopholes in the Ethics Act: no more using campaign accounts for anything other than campaigns.

If they do all that, I’d feel a bit better about their massive pay raises. Actually, it would be good for them, too, because one of those eight reforms is the shortening of legislative session. Although it would be far more difficult for them to continue profiting from office, or use campaign accounts as slush funds, they could all get to work making a living in the private sector.

Sound reasonable?