B y E m i l F r a n z i
THERE'S A MYTH that paying public officials more money raises their quality. It doesn't. It just gets you bigger hacks.
Public policy should not be made by people looking for a job making public policy. It should be made by people who actually care about their community. That this may lead to financial sacrifice for some is a fair trade-off for the power and status and all the other things that holding public office gives its recipients.
There's some correlation for our current disgust with public officials in the fact that many of them wallow in perks and are paid more than most of them could make in the real world. We've bred a class of lifer politicians, not in the sense of service we received from those like Jefferson and Lincoln who once gave to their communities and country, but from those who milk the office for all it's worth for as long as they can, like Rostenkowski and Packwood.
A Tucson City Council member currently is paid $12,000 a year for a part-time job. Those who advocate raising that amount bemoan what they call a poverty wage. Those who actually receive a poverty wage work for far less full-time. And the poor don't receive a free car, health and other bennies, and a retirement program twice as good as any other city employee. And they don't get to sit up on a dais telling the rest of us how to live our lives.
The history of other jurisdictions where public officials are highly paid, such as California, has not shown any improvement in the quality of those who hold office. In fact, the reverse is true. There are more former California legislators serving time right now than there are former Arizona legislators. And our salary and bennies are but a fraction of the Golden State's. All of which demonstrates an immutable law of politics: The higher the pay, the bigger the dive and the larger the amount of untraceable cash in the bag.
The concept we need to return to is service. We're able to fill a variety of decision-making roles, such as school boards and fire districts and council seats, in small communities without paying anything at all to those who serve. And 17 people wanted the vacant council seat in Ward 3 for the current pay.
You can't buy better representation. By passing a council pay raise, you won't attract better people. You will, however, attract more folks who'll simply want the job as a job. We have too many of those now.
| © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth