Faced with the prospect of major deficits and layoffs in the face of a recessionary economy, the members of the Hartford city council took a bold step: They asked for a big raise. The council voted to put a nearly 80 percent salary increase — from $15,000 a year to $26,650 — for themselves on the November ballot.
Astonishingly, it passed. About 51 percent of the residents who voted on Nov. 4 approved the salary increase. It comes as the city is eliminating 132 jobs, 65 by layoffs. It is a hornswoggle that boggles the mind.
So surprising is this outcome that we wonder if all the voters knew what they were voting for. The ballot question read: "Shall there be an ordinance amending the annual salary of Members of the Court of Common Council to ($26,650) effective January 1, 2012?" We suspect many voters didn't realize they were agreeing to a big raise for the council. If that was the case, it was cynically manipulative.
Supporters argued that they needed a raise so low-income people could afford to run for council seats. Although we have some sympathy for that position, these are supposed to be part-time positions. They aren't supposed to provide a living wage. As councilman Kenneth Kennedy said in opposing the measure, this is public service. It is a privilege and involves some sacrifice.
Mr. Kennedy noted that Hartford's council members were already the highest-paid in the state. Have the council members done anything to earn a pay raise? We are hard-pressed to name one thing.
And if the raises weren't enough, council members have been traveling on the city's meager dime. Majority Leader rJo Winch, for example, has taken at least four trips to conferences or other events since the summer of last year. This week she was in Orlando for a National League of Cities meeting.
Reasonable travel for professional development is normally a good thing. But in these difficult times, travel should be cut back. So should the raises.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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