Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

What's the best way to determine the salaries of elected officials?

The argument for the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) policy that will result in Pennsylvania elected officials getting an automatic three percent raise this week, lifting their base pay to $82,026, is that the state needs to give its elected officials periodic raises because of inflation, and if we make those raises automatic, officials won't spend their time making their case to taxpayers every few years, or trying to slip through big raises covertly. (Nevermind that they tried to do so in 2005 anyway.)

What's the best way to determine the salaries of elected officials?

The argument for the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) policy that will result in Pennsylvania elected officials getting an automatic three percent raise this week, lifting their base pay to $82,026, is that the state needs to give its elected officials periodic raises because of inflation, and if we make those raises automatic, officials won't spend their time making their case to taxpayers every few years, or trying to slip through big raises covertly. (Nevermind that they tried to do so in 2005 anyway.)

The argument against it lies in these numbers, courtesy of the Patriot-News:

Since the passage of the law granting automatic raises, the base pay for lawmakers has risen 74.5 percent; it was $47,000 in 1995.

Compare that with the rest of us. In 2010, the state’s median household income was $48,460, a 40.3 percent increase since 1995 ($34,524), according to the Pennsylvania State Data Center.

In other words, even if you buy the argument that elected officials shouldn't have to explain themselves every time they take a raise, the policy has thus far raised legislators' salaries much more than it should.

Right now, the raises are tied to the Consumer Price Index. Rep. Scott Perry wants to tweak the law so that the raises won't kick in if state revenues come in under projections; proposals to eliminate the rule have also been introduced, but haven't gone anywhere.

We're all ears: What's the best way to determine the salaries of elected officials?

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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