Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Disappointing but Deserved: Unicameral Payraise Rejected

by Kyle Michaelis
Despite having the support of nearly every civic organization imaginable, the constitutional amendment to raise State Senators' salaries failed with voters by a margin of 54.6 to 45.4% in Tuesday's election.

Though I voted for the amendment (with reservations), it's impossible to truly fault voters for rejecting such a flawed and over-reaching measure. This amendment always seemed somewhat manipulative, taking advantage of the obvious need for some legislative payraise to force voters into giving up their own inherent constitutional authority.

State senators constructed this Amendment in an all-or-nothing fashion that not only made them look greedy but also lustful for power. It's not surprising that voters would find a 75% payraise - all at one time - extravagant. If the new pay had increased only 50%, raised to $18,000 per year rather than 21,000, I have little doubt voters would have approved it.

Crossing 20K was always unnecessarily threatening to this amendment's passage, a psychological hurdle placed by state senators who were going for too much. Of course, 21K was justified as being commensurate with the current 12K when it took effect in 1988. But - in a country that has let its minimum wage fall to its lowest real level in history; in a state senate that has, itself, refused to take corrective action on this front - such justification doesn't stand to scrutiny. Senators should not be seeking to privilege themselves when they will not offer the same protections and give the same consideration to Nebraska's working poor.

Despite the failure of Amendment One, voters appreciate the fact that state senators should receive more compensation. Here, though, the expense was just too great to the state's pocketbook and the people's hand in their own government.

Again, I voted FOR Amendment One, but, in hindsight, I am almost glad that it failed. Now, senators will hopefully put a payraise proposal on the ballot more reasonable in scope and respectful of the voters. What's unfortunate is that it might take them a while to do so.

And, next time, I hope they will keep in mind that a cost-of-living adjustment should be a separate question from whatever dollar figure they next set their sights upon. It's one thing to ask Nebraskans to open up their checkbook and pay you what you're owed. It's another thing entirely to ask them to hand you over the checkbook (and the pen), so you can make future payments to yourself.

Of course, the idea is not without merit, but it should have been a separate amendment. And, if challenged, I wonder if the courts wouldn't have felt the same way. I do believe the courts have ruled that a single amendment cannot present more than one issue to the voters, and a strong case can be made that's exactly what Amendment One did.

Who knows? Voters might have just saved this state a lot in legal fees, their gut telling them what state senators should have already known.

PS- A final note to state senators: next time, think ahead. When asking for increased government spending, even necessary spending, you don't do so in an election when only Republicans have much reason to vote. That this amendment even came within 10-percentage points of passage when the Republican turn-out was so disproportionately high (even by Nebraska standards) is a testament to just how badly some pay increase is needed.

The well has not been poisoned - yet. Come back with a more reasonable offer, at a more strategic time, and I trust voters (Democrat, Republican, and Independent) will still prove willing to make a deal.


Anonymous GI Curmudgeon said...

Do you feel that the performance of the Unicameral the past few years warrants a pay raise? Bullhooks...a poorly written CCW...the last second OPS fiasco leaves me believing a 9th grade Civics Class could outperform this years Uncameral.

I read where this years Amendment was a "testing of the waters." They better test quicker because the good ship we call Nebraska is overburdened with taxes and sinking fast.


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