Talk of “shared sacrifice” rings increasingly hollow as the political class enjoys protections the rest of the country does not
About the only people whose jobs are truly secure during the coronavirus pandemic are politicians, government bureaucrats, and public employees. While the national unemployment rate increases even faster than the spread of the virus itself the political class remain comfortably ensconced in their taxpayer supported offices, riding in vehicles purchased by the people, and of course collecting their twice monthly treasury funded paychecks. The electeds issuing increasingly draconian, economy-destroying orders are untouched by the consequences. That’s bad for both the country and the politicians themselves: If they aren’t feeling some of the sting of their actions they can’t truly understand how everyone else is affected and craft appropriate policies.
It’s time for America’s political class to take a haircut.
Elected officials should forgo their salaries and donate them to small business support funds, at least until the immediate crisis is over. Gavin Newsom, whose life and political career have been funded by the Gettys, Pritzkers, Fishers, and a handful of other California aristocrats, doesn’t need his salary in the best of times. He makes more than a million dollars annually from various investments his benefactors provided him over the years. As a consequence a man who has spent the majority of his career in public service has amassed an estimated net worth of more than $20 million. He’s also married to Jennifer Siebel, daughter of billionaire tech executive Thomas Siebel. Considering his privilege it is grotesque for him collect his $300,000 taxpayer funded salary and benefits (he’s the highest paid governor in the country) at a time when millions of Californians are facing financial ruin.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is not personally as wealthy as Newsom but he comes from the same sort of rarefied and privileged background and has an estimated net worth of around $6 million. He doesn’t need his salary, either, yet there’s no indication he intends to forgo his $200,000 salary. Quite the contrary, in fact: Less than a week after the state lawmakers voted to give him a $50,000 raise he announced that he is freezing pay raises for all other government employees, including low salary front line workers, as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Keep it classy, Andrew.
Of course not all elected are millionaires, and demanding that someone like Maine governor Janet Mills forgo her $70,000 salary is a different ask. But every politician is taking every opportunity to lecture the country about sacrifice. It’s time for them to share in it. All 50 state governors should announce they are forgoing their salaries entirely, effective immediately.
Likewise, state legislators, mayors, and local legislators should voluntarily forgo some or all of their salaries. Los Angeles city councilman Mike Bonin, along with his husband Sean Arian, has a net worth of at least one million dollars and owns two homes. Certainly a politician like Mr. Bonin, a member of the highest paid city council in the country, can return some of his money to the people in the midst of a historic crisis. He recently posted on his official councilmember Facebook page that, “In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, low wage workers are either losing their jobs, or being left on the frontlines, underpaid and under-protected.” He could set a positive example by walking the walk and donating his salary to a fund supporting those workers. The entire Los Angeles City Council should follow suit. To not do so is, at this point, the epitome of hypocrisy.
Again, there are certainly politicians of modest means, but in a crisis like this it simply does not matter. There should be no distinction between the private and public sectors. If we truly are all in this together – as pretty much every politician tells us – their sacrifice should be no different. Low-income workers in the private sector are figuring out how to survive, it should be no different for the public sector.
In fact, lower income elected could prove to be decisive: A city councilmember or county supervisor living paycheck to paycheck would feel exactly what so many her constituents are feeling, which would lead to better decisions.
In forgoing their salaries to support their constituents the political class could take cues from the private sector. Dozens of CEOs, including Disney’s Bob Iger, Delta Airlines’s Ed Bastian, and GE’s Bob Culp, are taking zero salary for the rest of the year. More still have set up funds to support employees.
At least one elected is doing the right thing: Ohio Senator Rob Portman (R) has announced he is donating his salary to coronavirus relief. It’s high time for the rest of America’s political class to follow the examples of Sen. Portman and the CEOs.
It isn’t just the right thing to do: It’s smart politics. In the next election cycle constituents will ask what they did during the coronavirus crisis. “Sat at home collecting my paycheck while remotely voting for measures that destroyed thousands of livelihoods” isn’t a good answer. Yet that’s just what the political class is doing right now.
It’s time they stepped up. Press conferences are all well and good, but it’s time the people demand that the political class put some skin in the game.