Friday, May 18, 2007

Pay and pensions deal like a lottery win for MLAs

There's something terrible about the Liberals' move to hand every MLA a windfall the size of a lottery jackpot.
The compensation bill that will be passed within two weeks could mean an average one-time pension contribution payment worth about $400,000 per MLA.
That's not including the wage increase or the cost of the new pension plan going forward. It's what you will pay, as a taxpayer, if MLAs exercise their options to make the pension plan improvements retroactive as far back as 1996.
And that's the just a rough estimate of the average amount. The transfer from you to them will be much greater for the long-serving members.
Tally it up. A raise of 30 per cent for all MLAs and more than 50 per cent for the premier. The current pension plan, which costs taxpayers $6,900 per year per MLA, replaced with a plan that costs taxpayers $35,000 per year - a 500-per-cent increase.
And on top of that, an average $400,000 one-time contribution to each MLAs' retirement plan.
From you, to them.
Of course, notes Mike de Jong, the MLAs who want to buy retroactive pension benefits will also have to pay part of the cost.
Who knows, de Jong said in the legislature, maybe some won't even be able to afford to. It could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars, de Jong said.
But here's the deal. For every $1 an MLA spends to improve his retroactive pension benefits, the public - that's you - will put it more than $4.
Maybe there are MLAs who wouldn't grab that chance. Most of us sure would.
But then most of us would never get that kind of chance either. We can't vote ourselves a lottery win.
I'm probably sounding a little bitter here. Partly, I suppose I just feel betrayed. I like most of the MLAs I've met. I've certainly admired most of them, especially for their basic desire to make their communities and the province a better place to live.
And I think they deserve a raise from the current base pay of $76,100. (Most MLAS get extra money for various roles.) Some benefits, like long-term disability, need improving. Cabinet ministers, at $110,000, deserve more. Their deputies now sometimes make twice as much. And the premier, at $121,000, is underpaid.
But these increases are just wrong. A corporate management team that voted itself this kind of compensation package would pilloried for reckless greed.
It's especially wrong because the Liberals' justification is so lame. The pay and pension changes were recommended by a three-person panel. But the panelists - two senior lawyers and a business professor - had average incomes likely well over $200,000. Unlike previous such committees, there were no people who earned the average B.C. wage of under $40,000.
And even the panel didn't really prepare a unanimous recommendation. The three reached agreement and then one member left for Europe. The other two added the rich pension plan recommendations after that.
There have been lots of political games played over the raise.
The Liberals, setting the rules, said that all MLAs had seven days after the bill is passed to accept the raise and the pension, or opt out forever.
The aim was to make the NDP look hypocritical by presenting an all-or-nothing choice. If New Democrats voted against the raise, but took it, they would look bad.
The New Democrats say they'll take the package and give the raise to charity. The public will judge whether that's an acceptable compromise.
Of course, the Liberals decision to play politics comes at a price. Letting MLAs take only part of the package would likely have saved the taxpayers money.
But it wouldn't have been so politically clever.
Going into politics shouldn't mean unreasonable sacrifice. But it shouldn't mean handing yourself a winning lottery ticket, either.
Footnote: For more than 20 years, the State of Washington has had a 16-person salary commission to deal with pay for elected officials. One member is selected at random from the voters' list in each of nine geographical areas. The politicians appoint five members - one each from universities, business, professional personnel management, the law and organized labour. The state's HR department and universities get to name one person each. Other states have taken similar approaches.


Anonymous said...

Paul, Washington's method seems like a reasonable, intelligent and politics-free way of handling a contentious issue.

So of course, it could never work in BC

Anonymous said...

Money is power. Gordo wanted to show everyone what a great power he has turned out to be. He has lots of fans on that side of the house. Some of the folks won't get re-elected but some seats are so anti NDP a monkey could run and win those seats. Look at some of the ones they have now. A cabinet Minister who can't even read a complete sentence without screwing it up But a great desk thumper. The rest of the province peasants mean nothing to those folks. Gordon should be moving his office into the Legislative Library space real soon. His present suite is so basic. He wants to show the world what a greta person he is. His tactics reek, but it pays well . The opposition just couldn't resist a pension that most of us don't even dream about. 35 years federal service nets me less than one of those jerk pay increase. The world is not fair and BC most certianly isn't. Check out Strategic Thoughts comments today. Shcreck used to be a MLA has a PHD in Economics and can sure dig up the numbers faster than most.

Anonymous said...

Ian Bailey in the May 19/07 G&M: "The chair [Vancouver lawyer Sue Paish] of a panel that recommended a 29-per-cent pay hike for MLAs has decried the political "gamesmanship" that has prompted New Democrats to protest against the plan by donating their raises to charity."

No word yet from Ms. Paish on her "gamesmanship" of sandbagging a panel member while the panel member was out of the country... What a surprise!

Anonymous said...

MLA's are now about #2 in the country for pay. If #2 or 3 is ok for every other public sector employee, why is it not ok for MLA's?

What would be your suggestion for pay Paul?

Anonymous said...

stunning that no government body has figured out the easy way to do pay raises:
appoint an all-party commission, let their recommendation be binding and final, and here's the key point: make the pay raise effective for the NEXT legislature. No retroactivity, etc. Nobody gets accused of trying to line their own pockets, and you deal with the very real issue of needing to pay people appropriately for this incredibly demanding job.