The dominant political story of the past week has been the debate over pay raises for Worcester’s mayor and City Council.
You read that correctly.
Worcester Magazine reported: “Councilors are entitled to the raise in every even calendar year, the result of [an] amended salary ordinance in 2007. The raises are tied to the Consumer Price Index. Combined with past salary increases that were waived, councilors this year may earn $31,444 – up from $29,000.
“The mayor earns more than his colleagues, $34,000. His new salary would be approximately $36,000.”
The mayor and councilors are the only members of city government who have the option to waive the pay raise.
Vice Chairman and Councilor-at-Large Michael T. Gaffney brought the issue into focus at the end of the Feb. 2 meeting when he reiterated a campaign promise not to accept the pay raise.
Since then the issue of who accepted or declined the increase has been the subject of countless pageviews, column inches and airtime.
Debate about government spending is a worthwhile endeavor for public officials and citizens. At this point, however, context is required.
The municipal budget for fiscal 2016 is $598.1 million. The total amount of money being discussed is roughly $26,000, or .0043 percent.
To get a sense of exactly how inconsequential this is in the context of the city spending plan, let’s pretend the budget is $1,000. The amount of the pay raises would equal $.043 or 4.3 cents.
In this context, $26,000 in a budget of $598.1 million is unworthy of public debate, especially considering larger issues facing the city, such as: the opioid epidemic, housing values, aging public schools, and approximately $750 million in unfunded other post-employment benefits (OPEB), to name but a few.
To those who argue the discussion of pay raises is a matter of principle, we believe principle is important. However, the argument is lost when the matter at hand is not as consequential as the principle.
In January we opined: “Public service in any form is a noble endeavor, especially for those who seek and hold elected office. Those hearty enough among us to subject themselves to the slings and arrows of discontented constituents and work full-time hours for part-time pay not only merit respect, they command it.
“In exchange, the public has the right to expect that those chosen to lead them act with wisdom and goodwill, and without narrowness of mind and attempts at personal glorification.
“Moreover, as the pace of change accelerates in post-industrial cities such as Worcester, elected officials need to rise to the challenge of acting with a greater sense of urgency.”
Expending this much energy discussing such a small fraction of the municipal government is the antithesis of rising “to the challenge of acting with a greater sense of urgency.” It is pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Everyone with an interest in seeing Worcester continue to become a model city has the right to expect more.