Wouldn't it be nice to appoint a group of people to decide whether you should receive a raise, and have those folks come back with an annual bump of more than 35 percent?
Yeah, we thought so, too. But that privilege only exists for CEOs of major corporations, who sit on the boards of other corporations, and thus can approve incomprehensibly high compensation packages for one another. Oh - and it also applies to Oklahoma legislators, each of whom will score $12,000 raises come November.
The Legislative Compensation Board, composed of five people hand-picked by the governor and legislative leaders, made this decision last October. Of course, that was before the COVID-19 outbreak decimated state and municipal budgets. Not surprisingly, neither Gov. Kevin Stitt nor many lawmakers want to discuss it now, although one might read subtleties into Stitt's comment that he wasn't "going to make any specific comments" on whether the raises were appropriate.
At least five of the six lawmakers representing Cherokee County did talk to the Daily Press, and some suggested they didn't especially want the raises, but added there's no way they can get rid of them. Indeed, Sen. Ron Sharp, a Republican from Shawnee, tried to advance a bill halting the raises, but was told he couldn't do it. "Legal staff" informed him the "constitutionally created board" could do what it wanted, and there was nothing the soon-to-be-richer lawmakers could do about it. They even told him lawmakers couldn't refuse the raises on their own accord.
Sharp acknowledged the raises don't "pass the smell test," even though they don't take effect until after the November elections. Supposedly, since most of the lawmakers can't be assured voters will return them to office, that makes it more "fair." What seems more "fair" is the question of whether legislative "leaders" and their self-appointed deck-stacking cronies have some swampland in Arizona they'd like to fob off on hapless voters.
State agencies will suffer across-the-board cuts of anywhere from 4 to 10 percent, thanks to the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans are without jobs, and most are still trying - without much success - to get unemployment benefits. And yet, with this crisis continuing to unfold, folks who work maybe four months out of the year - who already make more than most of us - will see their taxpayer-funded checks go from $35,000 to $47,500 a year. And that's not even considering the "leaders," whom we pay far more.
There are plenty of excuses, the most often cited being legislators haven't had a raise in 20 years. That doesn't wash, since in the minds of some Okies, most of them are overpaid, anyway. There are certainly a few who earn their keep - and some of them serve this area. But even so, conditions being what they are, the timing is inopportune, if not obscene.
Here's an idea: Perhaps lawmakers could donate their excess salaries to a fund to help nonprofit groups devastated by the coronavirus, or to boost agencies and their staffers who are subjected to cuts or furloughs. The assertion that someone is being "forced" to take taxpayer money is an insult to our collective intelligence. Let's see if anyone besides Mr. Sharp and a few local representatives are willing to step to the plate.