Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 30, 2003

Politicians just don’t get it

This won’t fall under the this-just-in category, but recent news has made me realize how much politicians just don’t get it.

You really didn’t need to be sitting down for that one, did you?

Whether it’s an overpriced police station, sales tax rebates for big businesses, or an aquatic center that’s likely to generate red ink, we’ve got plenty of local examples of questionable spending decisions by politicians.

At least we’re not alone.

In the lovely city and county of San Francisco, supervisors have begun receiving a whopping, eye-popping $75,000 salary increase. Supervisors now earn $112,000 a year to run San Francisco, which is facing a budget deficit. To balance the budget, city workers are being asked to accept a 7.5 percent pay cut.

Someone tried to justify sharply increasing supervisors’ pay while slashing city services and city employees’ salaries with this weak point: supervisors’ annual raise impacts the city a mere $800,000 a year, while the union’s pay cut would save the city millions.

“This pay raise is equivalent to the cost of operating a homeless drop-in center that serves thousands of people a year,” Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness told the Associated Press. “The supervisors should say ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ and not take the raise.”

Then there’s Republican Assemblyman Dave Cox. An Associated Press report about his blatant abuse of the Assembly’s “per diem” money made my blood boil.

Cox, who the AP reports has blamed California’s $35 billion budget crisis on overspending and waste, lives 20 miles from Sacramento, yet accepts $26,000 per year for the cost of travel, housing and meals to commute to the Assembly.

Cox lives closer to his $113,850-per-year job than tens of thousands of Silicon Valley workers do to their usually-less-than-six-figure employment, yet has no compunctions about grabbing another $26,000 in taxpayer money to commute those 20 miles.

He is the only politician who lives less than 50 miles from Sacramento to accept the per diem money. That alone is galling. But when I consider Cox’s hypocrisy in blaming the budget crisis on overspending, I have to question if the man knows what a mirror is.

Cox’s aides justify his money-grubbing by saying that Cox pays taxes on the money and donates the rest to charity.

Assemblyman Cox, some infinitesimal percentage of that $26,000 came out of my pocket. I’d like to decide where to spend it.

Cox might want to support his re-election efforts by giving scholarships to students in his district, but I don’t like that idea. I wonder, were Cox’s scholarships awarded based on how many registered voters in the applicant’s extended family live inside his 5th district boundaries?

I’d like to decide if my portion of that $26,000 will go to the neighborhood bookstore, to a struggling new restaurant, or to my kids’ allowance.

In San Jose, one of the perks of being a city council member is a monthly car allowance. Some council members accept the allowance, others decline it, while others accept it but donate all or part to charity.

The latter council members need backbones. They’re apparently trying to assuage their guilt with that lame charity excuse. Are they blind to the offensive hypocrisy of accepting unneeded taxpayer money in these tight economic times?

Here in South Valley, except at the county supervisor level, pay for elected officials is so low as to nearly make it volunteer work. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make sure our elected representatives are fiscally responsible – and that’s up to us, taxpayers and (I wish this was redundant) voters.

No matter what politicians try to tell us, this much is true: Whether the government’s revenue comes from sales taxes, income taxes, vehicle license fees, impact fees, property taxes, redevelopment agency funds or corporate taxes, you can trace the dollars back to citizens’ wallets. Government operates on our money.

With elections fast approaching, now’s the time to educate yourself on local, state and national issues. How are candidates for the local school board all the way up to the White House planning to spend your money?

It’s not the only issue, to be sure, but it’s a big one. If you want your money spent wisely, then become an educated citizen, communicate with your leaders – and vote. Anyone who can’t be bothered will need to look in the mirror when the government’s red ink makes them see red.

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