Friday, August 30, 2013

Why the mayor's pay raises are a BFD

Because perception is reality.  Altering the perception is why so many people are trying to spin the matter one way or another.

Those who have followed the previous reporting on this topic don't need to be caught up, but let's provide a one-paragraph summary anyway for casual observers.

In 2011 Mayor Annise Parker laid off around 750 city employees because she did not want to raise any taxes or fees in order to balance the budget, but about the same time she began granting -- and has accelerated since then -- significant salary increases to high-level staff members.  The city's firefighters, no pal of the mayor's, have heavily criticized the move, and the president of one of the unions representing city employees called it "heartbreaking".  But the police officers' union (big supporters) stood behind her, contending that 'the market' dictated that the key people around the mayor were underpaid compared to similar jobs in the private sector, and were thus worthy of the increases once the city's financial footing was secured.  Even Richard Shaw, head of the local AFL-CIO, backed Parker up, saying (somewhat unnecessarily, unless he's extending a private fight into public view), "The firefighters need to quit whining".

For the record also, Noah at Texpatriate led the reaction in the left blogosphere, calling it a "phony" issue, and has supplied considerable inside information to support that POV.

Parker's highest-profile challenger, Ben Hall, has -- as with several other opportunities -- tried and failed to make this much of a campaign issue so far.  A couple of the local uber-insiders have the best interpretation of the affair for today...

GOP communications consultant Jim McGrath said the issue will be little more than water-cooler fodder at City Hall unless Hall can show a pattern of such decisions.

"Taxpayers and voters care about their well-being and their future and if the mayor has failed in some regard as it relates to that, that's something you can get traction with," McGrath said. "This inside baseball stuff will not fundamentally alter the dynamics of a race that isn't looking good for Mr. Hall at present."

Democratic political consultant Mustafa Tameez agreed: "This is not going to be seen well by the public, but something like this doesn't make or break the election."

So for everyone who thinks it's no big deal -- or hopes it won't be -- here's a news flash: it should be, and it ought to be.  And while Hall cannot find any traction with the topic, it appears that another of Parker's challengers, Don Cook, has.  This is from his campaign bulletin last night, via text message.

"It is characteristic of the insensitivity of this administration that Ms. Mayor Parker would give these massive pay raises to staff members while the 747 people she laid off in 2011 have not been rehired.  Parker claims credit for turning the local economy around, although an outside observer might conclude that has more to do with the city's position atop the carbon energy food chain.

"But Houston's economic recovery, as with the rest of the country, has been limited to those at the very top," Cook said.  "In fact, the highest 7% of wage earners have seen increases in their incomes of an average 28%, while the lower 93% of Americans have experienced real income deductions of 3%.  This business of the Mayor's is just more feather bedding for the elite while the rest of us tighten our belts.

"As Mayor, I pledge that not only will I rehire those 747 employees, I will only claim $31,138 of the current mayor's salary of $209,138, and find something better to spend the remaining $178,000 on."

The 31K figure is based on current estimates of a 'living wage' as being $15 per hour, a 40-hour work week, and a 52-week year.  "I figure the mayor, along with everybody else, deserves a living wage," said Cook.

That is how you make a mountain out of a molehill.  Alas, I predict the corporate media will overlook this candidate's statement... seeing as how we're headed into a holiday weekend and all.  After all, "nobody pays attention to political campaigns until after Labor Day".  Right?

Update: I'm delighted to see that the HouChron e-board proved me wrong and referenced Cook's press release Saturday morning. They did so as they justified the pay raises and slammed Ben Hall, but their mention of Cook's name and pledge still qualifies as progress, however minute it may be.

In other news, here's the ballot order for all local candidates standing for election in November.

1 comment:

Elderlady said...

I had to refresh my memory.

On the City employees pension plans. I did a google, found an article in Forbes, and was going to post the link, but alas Google Chrome doesn't like that. So, it closes this window.

Thing is... people who work in the public sector, almost always work for less money, than their counterparts in the private sector. That's the way it is, because the taxpayer is paying. However, when it comes to retiring, it's a different thing altogether. Firefighters, police officers, even garbage collectors, don't have to worry about their "corporation" declaring bankruptcy a la "Enron" and losing all their retirement. Unless.... somebody wants to screw around with the money... and it seems all big cities, including Houston think funding city employees pension plans, is money that should be spent on other stuff, like.... maybe refrigerator magnets???