- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

The phrase "belt-tightening" is not one applicable to Maryland's elected officials who are licking their chops in anticipation of a fat pay raise, even while the state is under a hiring freeze, tax revenue is declining as a result of the economic downturn and the General Assembly is contemplating significant budget cuts.

It seems that, among other things, $120,000 annually is not sufficient lucre for Maryland's governor he would get an increase of $30,000 if the raises go through that have been recommended by the state's Legislative Pay Commission. State legislators, meanwhile, would get a boost of more than $10,000 from the current $31,509 to $43,500. And state judges would get a salary increase of five percent equivalent to about $5,000 annually.

In Maryland, "public service" takes on a whole new meaning.

In addition to the salary bump, the per diem allowance for meals allowed state lawmakers would jump to $38 per day from the current $30. And the pension doled out to ex-governors would go up to $75,000 annually from the current $60,000. Mind you, this is simply gravy on top of whatever lucrative post-government work Maryland ex-governors latch onto. Given that their "expertise" and "knowledge" of the system typically results in six-figure corporate board memberships and the like, it's probably hard for ordinary working stiffs to come to grips with an annual pension that all by itself likely exceeds the annual income they receive for 40 to 60 hours per week of productive work. It clearly pays to "serve" the public.

Naturally, most Maryland politicians agree. Maryland House Majority Leader Maggie L. McIntosh, a Democrat, told The Washington Post that in her opinion pay scales for elected officials have been "well under the growth of state employees" and that the pay commission "wanted to catch us up to where we should be." Of course. Wouldn't it be nice if the private sector worked this way? Just vote yourself a pay increase of $10,000, $20,000, even $30,000. Hey, why not it's only money. The problem is that in this case the money is coming out of taxpayers' pockets and at a time when the state is having trouble providing for less glamorous things such as essential services. "It just doesn't look good," said Maryland Del. Dana Lee Dembrow one of the few Democrats to publicly voice misgivings about the pay increase.

No kidding. But whether there's enough capacity for shame left among Maryland's lawmakers to close the cash drawer remains to be seen. Voters, however, should bear all of this in mind when next they're asked to "sacrifice" for the sake of state "needs."

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