If this is a political bluff, then by all means let’s call it.
Some Republican lawmakers in Alabama are making noises about delivering on their party’s pledge to reform state politics after generations of virtual one-party Democratic rule. They have proposed legislation whereby lawmakers’ pay would be lowered -- yes, you read that right -- and could not be substantially raised again without voter consent.
From the standpoint of recent history, “lowering” might be a matter of relativity. Alabamians were outraged (as subsequent elections showed pretty clearly) when the 2007 Legislature voted itself a 61 percent raise. That act of political greed and hubris smelled even worse the next year when the American economy tanked and millions of Alabamians, including those who had invested for years in the state’s prepaid college tuition program, were facing real financial distress.
A proposal by Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, and Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, in the Senate and Mike Ball, R-Madison, in the House would repeal the 2007 pay raise and replace it with a salary tied to the state’s median household income -- $40,547 as of 2010, the latest year for which complete figures are available. They would get the same travel expenses as other state employees, which would make standard legislative compensation about $43,600, according to figures Taylor quoted in the Montgomery Advertiser.
Current legislative pay is $49,500.
And here’s the kicker: If the median income should drop, so would lawmakers’ pay; if the economy improves, legislative pay rises accordingly, but not disproportionately.
“It takes legislative pay out of the hands of the Legislature and ties the pay to something objective,” Williams said.
Also, the proposed amendment provides that the pay plan can’t be changed again without a public vote -- which this plan would also require.
“Lawmakers will never be able to vote themselves a pay raise again,” Taylor predicted.
Well we’ll see. First, of course, we have to see whether this gesture of alleged civic altruism ever makes it out of Montgomery.
It didn’t last year, when some lawmakers, Taylor among them, tried to roll back the 2007 raise and legislators in both parties balked.
There’s still the possibility that this is pure posturing -- that it has no chance, so there is no risk for the political reward. But none of the three main sponsors has drawn the full compensation to which he is entitled under the 2007 raise.
It also should be pointed out, of course, that this lower pay is based on median household income -- pretty generous for a part-time job in a historically poor state.
Still, the idea of making those who purport to be public servants answerable to the public, not just for the job itself but for the pay as well, has undeniable appeal.