Talking Points Memo reveals yet another sign of Republican hypocrisy on the issue of public employee wages. Republican Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin's 7th district said his $174,000 paycheck was a "Struggle" to live on.
"I can guarantee you, or most of you, I guarantee that I have more debt than all of you. With 6 kids, I still pay off my student loans. I still pay my mortgage. I drive a used minivan. If you think I'm living high on the hog, I've got one paycheck. So I struggle to meet my bills right now. Would it be easier for me if I get more paychecks? Maybe, but at this point I'm not living high on the hog."
This he said to a constituent who was earning far less on his bus driver salary and that of his wife, a teacher facing a pay cut. The average household income of Polk County, Wisconsin is $50,520.
Duffy continues to try and downplay the level of benefits of the federal government, despite having guaranteed health care and a retirement plan that matches contributions up to 5% (or an additional $8700 on a Congressional salary). Duffy speaks up Governor Walker's demands on public employees, and says he is open to cutting his own pay if everyone else takes a pay cut as well. Worse, he plays down the high salary by saying that he didn't vote for it, as if that excuses a sacrifice.
Duffy feels entitled to his pay, yet doesn't believe that his constituents should want to defend their salary or that he, as an elected leader, should take the first cut. This sort of attitude, from a someone making three times the wage of his constituents, is one reason why we cannot expect lawmakers to serve the cause of the working class.
A change should be made, starting in the states, to put politician pay in line with their constituents. Only when Congressmen have to live within the means of their constituents can we expect them to vote the interest of their constituents. As it stands 10 states have full time legislatures with an average annual compensation of $68,599. The other 40 states use various part time methods. Congress members get $174,000 a year.
I think a series of referendums or constitutional amendments should be passed in the states to limit state legislator and governor pay to the median household wage of the state in which they serve. The adjustments should be made annually, up or down, depending on the fortunes and policies of the states.
This would serve the progressive cause because legislators would have to recognize that in order to earn a pay increase, they have to raise the wages of those at the bottom rather than pay out to their corporate cronies at the top.
Unions would benefit greatly, as legislators would have to recognize that union jobs pay 20% more in wages and 28% more when benefits are factored in. Non-union workers get a bump if they are in highly unionized industries. Politicians can't scapegoat public sector workers and wages without in some way cutting down their own wages. Right-to-work legislation, which cost workers an average $5,333, will no longer have the appeal it does to conservative legislators.
On the Congressional level, salary should be based on the national median wage. Representatives and Senators debating tax cuts, unemployment benefits and federal employees wages will have their income tied to the outcome of their own legislation. If they want to maintain a good wage, they must consider the impact on the average voter. If passed, I imagine much more time will go into studying the impact on free trade agreements and a fairer trade will become the new normal in international commerce discussion.
There is a precedent for establishing legislator pay rules in the Constitution. The Twenty-Seventh Amendment, barring any Congress from raising it's own pay until the next Congressional session, has limited the ability of the body to lift it's own pay in the short term. A new amendment, replicated in the states as well, should bind our representatives to the consequences of their actions.