This is an opinion piece written by Aryeal Jackson. It was NOT written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit an opinion piece to The Voice, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Tuesday, the Tompkins County Legislature will vote on whether or not to include themselves in the law that requires all county employees be paid a living wage. While opinion is often that lawmakers should not be a drain on the tax base, what has resulted is often an unrepresentative, party appointed legislature.
The resolution before the legislature proposes the current salary of $19,075 per year: an average of $12.23/hour, be raised to, $21,400/year or an average of $13.77/hour. Running a few more numbers provides us with actual tax payer cost for these raises: $1.34 per county resident. That’s right. The total cost to taxpayers for all 14 legislators over 4 years is $134,534. Using the most recent census for Tompkins County that rounds out to a total cost per capita of $1.34.
So, why do they need more money? Because local government is where the day to day life changes are made. Tomorrow night’s legislative agenda is 174 pages. When you add meetings, reading all the supporting materials and emails, which we all know suck hours of our life we can never get back, and you have a “part-time” legislature position that pushes well past the 30 hours in the job description.
This excludes anyone who doesn’t have the good fortune and privilege of being in a position to give time away for free. The demands of the job already ensure that those who seek it are motivated by service.
Who do we want making those decisions? People who can afford to only dedicate their time to reading and engaging with the material because of their affluence? Or people who are paid fairly, don’t struggle to feed their families or are distracted but the influences of outside careers? The recent election has shown us that participation in our government is essential, even when the area we live in is as wonderful as Tompkins county.
Government accountability isn’t sexy or flashy. It’s meetings that go on for hours and details that are often lost. Paying our lawmakers fair wages says that we take their time seriously. That we depend on them to bring educated and thoughtful resolutions to the table. Legislating shouldn’t be a retirement activity. How can a lawmaking body protect the needs of it’s electorate when it is so far removed from the lives of the people it pro ports to serve?
A vote on this resolution is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30pm at the legislative chambers (121 E. Court St. in Ithaca) Please come out and speak your mind.
Here is a link to the agenda: https://tompkinscountyny.iqm2.
Alternatives Federal Credit Union published their updated estimate of the county wide living wage to $13.77 for positions where health benefits are provided by the employer and $14.34 if they are not provided.
All legislators are up for re-election in 2017.
(Featured file photo by Ed Dittenhoefer.)