Our Opinion: Lawmakers sneak in own raise

Published 9:58 am Monday, March 12, 2007

By Staff
The Alabama Legislature's voice vote to give themselves a raise Thursday managed to be both brazen and sneaky - a little bit like a child taking cash from his mother's purse to pay for lunch. He might need the money, but it's not the right way to go about it.
Lawmakers chose a voice vote - one that does not record the individual yays and nays - to give themselves an extra $1,570 per month in expenses.
Supporters said they need the money because they haven't had a raise in 17 years, and the cost of hotel rooms, meals and gas has gone up.
That may be true, but lawmakers should have presented those facts and publicly voted, rather than sneak around and do it anonymously.
Legislative leaders say they heard no opposition to a voice vote, although several Republican leaders say they tried but were gaveled out too quickly to make a difference.
Lawmakers knew exactly what kind of uproar they would experience if they voted themselves a raise as one of the first acts of their regular session.
That's why they did it quickly and anonymously, and any suggestion otherwise is disingenuous and irresponsible.
If Gov. Bob Riley follows through on his promise to veto the pay raise, lawmakers will likely have the votes to override. But we hope those votes will be recorded this time - so we all know just how much legislators think they are worth.
We're proud that Brewton's Alan Baker, a new representative, voted against the measure - and took the extra step to make sure his vote was recorded. Baker said he believes the money could be spent in better ways.
We agree. While there's no doubt that food and lodging costs have gone up since 1990, we'd argue any money crunch the lawmakers are experiencing pales in comparison to working families in Alabama struggling to feed a family on salaries at or close to the minimum wage.
Lawmakers should have waited until the end of the session - after they made sure the state had the money for things like tax relief, school programs, law enforcement funding, and teacher and state employee pay raises - before they took care of themselves.
Like the child stealing from his mother's purse, legislators were wrong to think we would look away from their anonymous gift to themselves.