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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

You get what you pay for, Part II

We've explored what happens when a politician opts to work pro bono. Let's turn our attention now to why people with valuable skills shun the public sector.

Not all public employees are hacks (though the ones that are sometimes manage to garner an awful lot of attention). But public employees are held to a different set of standards than those who toil in what Howie Carr likes to call the Dreaded Private Sector.

I expect Carr to have a field day with the lead stories in the Globe yesterday and today (although we may wonder why the "plucky" Herald missed them. Their hack-o-meters just haven't been working well lately.)

Deval Patrick is offering to sign off on premium pay increases for a number of key legislative committee chairs in exchange for the leadership's support of his proposals to overhaul how state government works. The Globe notes:

House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, the driving force in the Legislature for pay raises, has not been persuaded that that is a fair deal, sources say. The pay raises would cost about $40,000 for each branch, while Patrick is asking for a far more expansive and complex change in government operations and philosophy.

"That's a quid pro quo?" asked one lawmaker who is aware of the proposed deal.

But regardless of the fairness of the deal from DiMasi's standpoint, the proposal shows Patrick is bringing some of the skills he learned in corporate boardrooms -- where talented people are compensated for the time and expertise in areas of importance.

There's a remarkable disconnect between what's fair pay in the public sector and the private sector -- although arguably we all pay for it either through taxes or higher prices for consumer goods and services.

Outrage will run high when Senate President Robert Travaglini say they can't support a family with college-age kids on $90,000 a year. That's why the media is full of speculation that he will jump ship for a much better paying job at the Massachusetts Biotech Council or the Massachusetts Hospital Association -- which are willing to pay upwards of $400,000 annually.

The level of outrage is way in excess of what is heard when corporate leaders haul down huge packages -- even when they are being swept out the door. As Kevin Drum notes:
In 1991 the pay of the average American large-company boss was about 140 times that of the average worker; by last year, it was over 500 times, and growing. Last year's 7.2% rise in the average American boss's total compensation is worth over $400,000—nice work, if you can get it.
Why is the ousted CEO of Home Depot worth $210 million in severance and legislative committee chairs not worth an extra $5,000 or $10,000 a year? I won't get into any lengthy riffs about screw jobs.

People get into public service with good intentions (most of the time). That is one of the reasons salaries are far lower than in the private sector -- their motivation is more than money. But the problems facing the public sector are no easier -- and in many ways more complex -- than those facing far-better compensated private sector leaders.

Those in the public sector also (correctly) face far more scrutiny and demands for accountability -- having your salary published is unnerving but fair game.

Americans have very unusual concepts about the value of leadership. Patrick hauls down $135,000 far less than the $475,000 in base salary he earned as executive vice president and general counsel of Coca Cola. George Bush does not earn a penny of the $400,000 he receives as president, but that is also less than what Patrick made for a position with far less responsibility.

The people who generally benefit the most from government are lobbyists -- pulling down salaries from organizations that in turn pass those costs down the line to the buyers of the goods and services being represented. Think they are watching out for you and me?

So bravo to Patrick, who knows he will take the heat from from right wing radio and its blogosphere allies. But the deal he is proposing could truly benefit taxpayers in the long run if he can bring some rationality and accountability to the state bureaucracy that he is responsible for.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what's a baseball player worth? I forget Manny's salary, but let's say he plays 100 games and gets to bat 5 times per game. How much is that for each at bat???

Oh, I forgot. That is a REALLY important job.

January 28, 2007 10:45 AM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

I won't even go there -- Barry Bonds gets $16 million for one year to achieve a dubious steroid-supported "record." And like Tom Finneran, lying to a grand jury is probably not going to hurt that much.

January 28, 2007 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sad thing about the baseball players is that they give poor kids from the inner city the mistaken impression that they should strive for the same kind of career. As we know, the odds of success are one in a million. That is a cruel hoax sprung on the youth of the city.

At least if you try Tom Finneran's path, the odds of success are greater, maybe one in a thousand!

January 28, 2007 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor them. It's not like they didn't know the salary when they signed on.

And, notably, you've avoided the bigger point: Patrick wants to give them a raise in exchange for support of his program.

Bribe much?

If I tried to give a Representative $80,000 for his vote, I'd be in jail. If you're Governor, doing the same thing you're "reaching out for consensus".

January 28, 2007 5:02 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

anon 5:02 -- you have a point, although they'd probably prefer the term "negotiations" to bribe. But can you tell me this sort of horse-trading doesn't go on anywhere else, including the private sector? I'd love to ban it totally but you'd lose a lot.

But certainly don't overpay your bribes. You'd be in jail if you gave a rep more than $500 (I think that's the limit now) in campaign contributions. :-)

January 28, 2007 5:10 PM  

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