Dear Source,
I join in decrying the large increases in salary voted for, and to be received by, our elected officials, namely the 15 members of the Legislature, the governor and lieutenant governor. The increases, which total $405,000 (let's not forget that the Senate president gets a $10,000 "stipend"), come at a time when the territory can ill afford to increase the pay of anyone, including high-ranking public figures.
[Editor's note: The increases approved are to $135,000 from $80,000 for the governor, to $115,000 from $75,000 for the lieutenant governor and to $85,000 from $65,000 for each senator.]
For the record, I can rationalize the increasing of the governor's and lieutenant governor's salaries, although the amounts of increase are excessive. Our chief executive should make a salary commensurate with the job, likewise his second-in-command. However, in an attempt to exercise prudence and true leadership, it would have been wise for the governor to seek a moderate increase, perhaps to $115,000, and the lieutenant, to $105,000. This would be reflective of fiscal restraint and establish a benchmark for public sector government salaries.
For the record: Prior to leaving office, former President Bill Clinton sought and received support for increasing the president's salary from $200,000 to $400,000. This new salary will take effect in 2004.
The constant comparison of the governor's salary to those of the quasi-governmental executives is comparing apples and oranges. For starters, these individuals for the most part, are hired professionals who are held accountable for their actions by a board or commission. They are hired for their expertise in specialty areas. As executives, they must demonstrate positive performance or face the potential of being fired.
Most of these professionals also are in demand on the mainland for their professional services. Thus, the economic laws of supply and demand dictate that in order to attract and maintain competent professionals such as the executive director of the Water and Power Authority, the salary must be on par with industry standard practices. Bear this in mind.
Now to the salary increases for the members of the Legislature. Imagine, 15 members of the first branch of government will receive $85,000 per annum, despite their lack of proven performance, measurable and meaningful accomplishments, and goals and objectives for the community at large.
Much to my chagrin, two members of the Legislature, Sen. Lorraine Berry and Sen. Roosevelt David, have tried (but failed) to make a case justifying their votes for the increases. In her weekly radio address, Sen. Berry states that neither the media nor the public has ever supported increases for elected leaders. She also points out that by increasing the pay of senators, the degree of performance can now be determined. Is this not putting the cart before the horse? Pay raises are usually granted based on past performance, not expected performance. There is not an NPV (net present value) calculation for performance that can be put in place.
Moreover, Sen. Berry, a stalwart for fiscal control and prudence, has voted against salary increases for teachers and other collective bargaining units, indicating that there is no revenue stream to support the increases. Yet, stating that she is a "team player," this senator, who once indicated that she is "not a Turnbull Democrat," has all of a sudden seen the light and found fit to up her pay by almost 31 percent. Shame on you, senator. Where has your fiscally responsible conscience gone?
Sen. David, a former banker and business owner, seems to have set aside all of his professional expertise and training in voting himself a raise. While he did not specifically defend the increases for his colleagues and himself, he did play advocate for the increase in the governor's salary. What galled me was his disregard for more pressing matters of public concern.
Sen. David indicated that there are income streams in motion that would offset the increases. Is this the way to run a country, basing current actions on future expectations? Perhaps, the good senator may have consulted with Miss Cleo sometime in the past. Maybe she could have helped him and his contemporaries to identify money for paying the millions owed in retroactive pay to nurses, teachers and other government employees.
When salary increases of this nature take place, they only serve to lower the bar on public support for public officials and public sector workers and raise the bar on public apathy. On the heels of the announcement, several union leaders have hinted that they will use the premise for seeking increases in the next round of union negotiations. Do you give them wrong? Heck no!
Nonetheless, when wage increases become the sole concern for the collective bargaining process, it reduces the overall value of the work force, particularly in the public sector. How? When was the last time you heard about other issues in union negotiations, such as increased training for employees, establishment of performance measurement factors and deployment of technology-based solutions to increase services to the paying public?
The main bread-and-butter focus has always been on salaries. As a consequence, our public sector lags behind in acceptable customer service, in the use of technology in solving everyday problems and, most importantly, in an empowered work force. Employees may receive higher pay over time, but are they, and are we, satisfied with the jobs being performed?
Now, there are new mandates, such as federal requirements for teacher and paraprofessional certification, increasing students' test scores, which is part of the No Child Left Behind Act, increased standards for health care and, most notable, meeting requirements for re-accreditation of our public high schools. Where are our priorities?
In a nutshell, the money allotted for the elected officials' pay increases could have been better used for a number of pressing community needs. Reducing crime, improving education, bolstering public welfare, improving the infrastructure and increasing tourism marketing initiatives are but a few places where the money should be spent.
Contrastingly, we see the need for discretion and proven leadership being pushed aside in pursuit of personal gain, avarice and downright turning a blind eye to the realism of what the territory needs – true leaders in a time of crisis.
How can I truly wish the People of Paradise a Happy New Year?
Terence A. Thomas
St. Thomas

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