Few things will incite riot in the taxpaying populace faster than a plan to raise the salaries of its elected leaders.
It taps that peculiar American vein of boiling resentment against the political class, which in this surly Trumpian Age is often and perhaps unfairly viewed as a collection of mountebanks, chiselers and phonies.
Nevertheless, the five members of the New Rochelle City Council and its long-time part-time mayor, Noam Bramson, are forging ahead with a bold idea to reward themselves with their first pay raise in eight years.
But there’s more.
The raises are retroactive to 2008. Plus they want automatic annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index, which means they will enjoy at least modest bumps in pay forever and ever and … ever.
The proposed amendment to the current salary law will be presented at a public hearing to be held Monday — an event guaranteed to attract a sizable crowd. Incidentally, the document in question, which is posted on the city government website, is a masterpiece of bureaucratic gobbledygook. Nowhere does it say in plain English exactly how much money the mayor and council stand to gain.
Was this deliberate? You bet it was.
After cutting through the thick verbiage, it’s apparent that the council members would see their salaries jump from $33,968 to $38,941, effective Jan. 1, 2017. The mayor’s pay would go from $88,971 to $100,818. Surely, this would secure Bramson’s place among the highest paid part-time mayors in the land.
The CPI plan works this way: Every year the city’s elected officials will receive a raise tied to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic’s cost-of-living calculation, which is based on the increased cost of an array of consumer goods and services purchased by households. Last year the CPI was 1.7 percent.
As already stated, the New Rochelle officials would get retroactive CPI raises going back eight years. Future raises, however, carry one caveat: Raises will be “deferred” in years when the city’s “unrestricted fund balance so reported is less than 5% (sic) of the prior year’s General Fund operating budget.”
In other words, lo and behold, there is actually a fiscal performance standard that must be met. However, the key word is “deferred.”
That means exactly what it implies. When the city leaders fail to meet the fund balance requirement, the CPI-based salary increases for that year is merely put on hold. Sooner or later, when the fiscal outlook improves, the deferred raises come back. They can’t lose.
How do you gauge a fair wage?
The New York State Legislature, which hasn’t raised its base pay of $79,900 in 18 years, is poised to give itself a 47 percent salary increase after this year’s election. But state Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, says a raise is not deserved.
“If we had the kind of performance in the last ‘X’ number of years that people looked at and said, ‘Boy, they’re doing a great job, they’re working hard, they’re tackling long overdue issues,’ you might be able to justify a pay raise,” Latimer said during a recent interview on our “High Noon” WVOX radio program.
Latimer vowed not to vote for an increase. In fact, he said, if the legislative raise goes through as expected, he won’t accept it, and if allowed, will donate it a “deserving local charity.” His Republican opponent in the 37th S.D., Julie Killian, has said that any pay raise should be tied to term limits.
Wendy Long, the GOP candidate running for the U.S. Senate against Chuck Schumer, recently pledged that if elected, she would introduce legislation that would tie Congressional pay to the median American household income, currently $53,657.
That is a great idea. Unfortunately, it has about as much of a chance as Schumer ever running away from a TV camera.