I found myself agreeing with Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) this week. I also found myself shaking my head in disbelief that I did.
The issue is the pay of our state legislators.
The proposal is to increase it . . . dramatically.
I can hear the reactions right now.
Sure, give a pay raise to a body that has faltered at or failed to fulfill its constitutionally mandated duties of passing a balanced budget in time for the next fiscal year (faltered) and district maps for our congressional and state Senate seats (failed).
“What business increases the pay of individuals who fail to perform key duties?”
Well, there are the CEOs that made out quite nicely, thank you, while the nation and the world went into financial crisis a few years ago. There also are the key corporate players who see their assets enhanced greatly during mergers and takeovers that destroy the livelihoods of hundreds, sometimes thousands of ordinary workers.
But I digress . . .
Those of us who work for wages or salaries generally do not see that wage or that salary increase when we fail to meet deadlines. We’re also supposed to work within our budget (consider the added cost to taxpayers of the special sessions, as well as all the lawyers paid in what proved to be failed efforts to defend the maps previously drawn, plus the time spent by the members of the judiciary, also on the taxpayers’ dime, to rule that the Legislature had failed and then to do the Legislature’s job).
Oh, and it generally doesn’t go over well with the boss when, while we are being disciplined for failing to do our job, we say that the job is too hard and that the boss has imposed unreasonable standards upon the quality of our work.
But, again, I digress . . .
Because, to be fair, there is a strong argument for increasing the pay of our state legislators, and it is an argument that resonates with similar decisions made in the private sector.
It goes something like this:
Wages and salaries (as well as benefits) are driven, in part, by the labor market. Minimum wage jobs are still minimum wage because employers can find people to take them for minimum wage. But if an employer finds it difficult to attract and retain the talent he/she is looking for to fill a particular position, that employer will, if he/she can, increase the compensation, enhance the benefits package or both.
An employer also might do this, even if he/she has attracted individuals at the present salary and benefit level, if he/she is looking for a stronger employee for this position. Stronger might mean more current knowledge, or a better mix of skills, or even some character traits that are critical to the successful fulfillment of the position’s responsibilities and that seem, in the present team, to be lacking.
Almost no one (including many of our legislators) is satisfied with our Legislature’s performance this year. Given that the foundation for this year’s failures was laid at least three years ago, we also can say that this was not just a run of bad luck.
So let’s be smart employers. If we don’t like the performance of the legislative unit, let’s assess why we get the talent we get, and not the talent we want. There are some good reasons to believe that the salary (less than $30,000 a year) is one reason. Many capable, concerned citizens simply can’t afford to take on the role of legislator, take time off from their other work or make legislative work their sole income, for a few thousand dollars more than the poverty level for a family of four.
The best part of this deal: since every seat in both the House and the Senate will be up for election this year, we citizen-employers don’t have to give that improved salary to anyone we actually don’t think deserves the job. Fire them; vote someone else in.
A pay raise for Florida’s state legislators definitely is an idea whose time has come.