??Street Corner Soapbox: The Mayor Gets a Raise

Thursday, October 27th, 2011 at 9:30 AM
??Street Corner Soapbox: The Mayor Gets a Raise by Jay Stevens

Last week, the Erie city council voted 4 to 3 to give the incoming mayor of Erie a $30,000 raise, from $65,000 to $95,000 a year.

What could $30,000 buy the city? For starters, you could buy a brand-new police cruiser. Or about a dozen state-of-the-art fire helmets. Or a couple of sets of playground equipment, complete with tube slide, monkey bars, and slider bar. Or several dozen downtown park benches. With $30,000, you could hire a new sewer worker. Or a part-time firefighter or police officer. Or a data entry clerk. Or a communications specialist. Or an executive secretary. Or thirty – thirty! – crossing guards.

Why would the city council decide to give the mayor at $30,000 raise? In this economy? With double-digit real unemployment? With 30 percent of Erie's residents mired in poverty? With protesters a block or so away in Perry Square sleeping in the park over economic inequality and general joblessness?

Well, for starters, it's been 13 years since the mayor's had a raise. For another, the new salary is comparable to those of other mayors of similar-sized cities – yet still less than that of the director of Erie Water Works, according to the Erie Times-News, which stands at $150,000.

For another, the mayor oversees a $40-million budget and a workforce of over 300 employees. A $90,000 salary seems reasonable given the position's responsibilities. In comparison, if the city were a private corporation its CEO would, on average according to the Institute for Policy Studies, out-earn its average worker 325 times. If Erie's mayor were paid 325 times the city's lowest paid full-time worker, he'd earn $6.5 million – and that's not including the stock options, gold-plated health care plan, company car, and other perks corporate executives usually enjoy along with their bloated salaries.

Of course, if the city were a corporation, its lowest-paid position would have long ago been outsourced, and a 9-year-old child in China chained to her desk would handle your 911 calls.

So what we have in the city of Erie is an entity that offers reasonable, liveable wages to its workers while paying its head a modest salary. In short, its pay structure should serve as a model for private industry. Instead, the pay raise has become the focus of derision and anger. “I'm not in favor of that at all,” said one Erie resident interviewed by WICU12 News, “because he makes more money in his raise than I get in my entire paycheck for an entire year.”

It shouldn't surprise us that so much is made over the raise to the Erie mayor. Government workers have long been targeted for attack. So much so that both the local media and residents know the parts they play, the questions they should ask, and the lines they should speak.

Why target government workers? For one, the public sector is one of the few areas in our economy in which workers still have pensions, decent health care benefits, living wages and belong to unions. There's money to be made by privatizing government functions and slashing those wages, putting the saved money into the pockets of investors and executives.

After all, what's the outrage of a $30,000 salary increase compared to JPMorgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon's 2010 salary increase of 1,479 percent, to $20.8 million? That's 893 times the average JPMorgan Chase bank teller wage of $10.58 an hour. That raise, of course, came after federal taxpayers bailed out the bank to the tune of over $90 million. And shortly after that raise, JPMorgan Chase began aggressively raising its customers fees.

Those depressed teller wages and inflated executive salaries are subsidized by taxpayers and customers. That is, you.

Where's the outrage?

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