Friday Jun 26 2009
Per diem pay has had its day and should end
By: Jim Ruffalo
Looking Behind the Scenes
Reviewing the notebook while realizing that one of the few state expenses that will continue being paid in cash, instead of with an IOU, are the elected officials’ per diem vouchers … You know when you think about it, cutting per diem — or more properly — ending it altogether — should have been the very first thing crossing the collective minds of the state legislators. After all, the planet can’t seem to make a complete rotation without an elected official from either side of the aisle tearfully exclaiming that we need to make more and more cuts in order to deal with a deficit woefully underestimated at $24 billion. And these ravenous weasels are so bad that there’s one story, doubtless not apocryphal, that not a three-day holiday goes by without one state senator and one assembly member being left behind at Sacramento. That poor schlemiel’s lone duty is to waddle to the floor midway through the lengthy holiday period to call the senate or assembly into session, then just as quickly, call for adjournment. Why such a truncated exercise? Well, we’re told that the rules say there’s no per diem payments allowed if the senate or assembly go more than a full day without being called into session. True or not, there’s no valid reason to pay an elected official any per diem, especially in these horrendous times. They haul in a good-sized paycheck as it is, and even they will admit that there’s very little heavy lifting involved in the job. Any wonder people are ticked off these days? Unfortunately, said frustration is usually transformed into little more than yelling at your TV set, or crumpling up the newspaper and violently tossing it aside. With that in mind, I journeyed out to Thursday’s meeting of the Auburn/Cool Branch of Sons In Retirement (SIR). Remembering that America’s greatest living philosopher (Yogi Berra) insisted “we can hear a lot by listening,” I carefully cocked both ears in their direction after asking these venerable folks for solutions. Bernie Borow began by agreeing that per diem needs to be excised, then went on to call for elimination of vehicle allowances and gasoline credit cards financed by us taxpayers for many elected officials. “What have they done to keep this stuff?” he asked, and received the silence he no doubt expected. Gene Gilbertson opined that we ought to end all pensions and retirement pay for elected federal officials, something the voters did for the legislature a few elections ago. Gilbertson is correct. Go re-read “The Federalist” and you’ll see that the framers wanted so-called “gentlemen farmers” as representatives. They meant that they wanted somebody to trudge to Washington, D.C., to represent their area, then two years later, get another “farmer” as a replacement. The theory was the new person had spent the immediate past two years back home and better knew what was going on there. But once we began providing perks for public service, we established a whole new phylum in politics. Gus Hetland called for a requirement that for each bill enacted by Congress or the Legislature, or even by boards of supervisors or city councils, an existing law must be cut. Actually, Gus is being too kind. We could eliminate three for one and other than we’d probably be better off, nobody would notice the difference. Karl Schueller was beside himself wondering why Placer County officials recently got a neat pay raise at the same time the bulk of their employees are getting an unpaid day off each month. While he didn’t say so, that passel of excuses for how those officials were practically forced to accept that largess was found wanting. As the board of supervisors well knows, just three votes can take care of that embarrassing item. This board ought to get over its largess and do something about that. And while we’re at it — why is the board still handing out that so-called “revenue sharing?” While that expense is “just” $100,000 per year, it would serve as an excellent example of county supes meaning what they say about making all the cuts they can. Mick Magee railed against an abundance of abuses by local governments, and was especially peeved over which priorities are being used to make budget cuts. Magee said the top priority should be “starting by reducing all (government) salaries.” There were other suggestions, but we’re out of space. If you’re a retired or semi-retired man interested in joining this lively group, contact Big Sir John Keenan at (530) 889-1731. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.