Other opinions: Lawmakers: Be brothers' keepers
Published 10:25 am Wednesday, March 14, 2007
The first question man asked of God in the bible is “Am I my brother's keeper?” In my opinion, how one answers this question dictates the kind of life they will live, as well as determine how they are judged by history.
Elected officials have the unique ability to affect a broad measure of change upon society. Every vote cast and each possible debate, elected leaders can create economic opportunity, give some measure of dignity to those who have been wronged, or create hope where none previously existed.
The newly elected members of Alabama's legislature chose the first exercise of their mandate from voters to be an increase in their own pay by more than 60 percent, up to $49,250 from $30,410. Such a self-serving increase before having completed a single legislative session is a decision made in ignorance at best, and at worst in nothing short of primal greed and indifference.
Alabama's part-time legislature works no more than 30 days a year, unless called upon by the governor to work no more than 12 extra days. If the pay increase is enacted, each legislator would earn more than $1,600 per day. According to the United States Census Bureau the median household income for an Alabama family is approximately $37,500.
In our state 700,000 individuals, including 60,000 children do not have health insurance. Some 750,000 people in our communities live in poverty. On any given day the average population in our prisons exceeds 23,000. In 2005, there were 19,678 acts of violent crime across our state. We possess the nation's sixth highest infant mortality rate. And, in 2006, 5,400 of our children dropped out of school. Each of these numbers represents someone's child, parent or grandparent. Included are widows, orphans, veterans, individuals with disabilities and hardworking Alabamians who can't catch a break.
After legislators approved their pay increase by a non-recorded vote, some spoke in defense of their action by citing higher hotel and food costs in Montgomery, as well as the numerous pay raises that have been given in recent years to other groups of state employees. All are valid points, however in a world of scarce resources, Montgomery continually chooses to feed its own gluttony while military families go without healthcare, children across our state do not receive an equitable education, and seniors struggle to make insurance co-payments for life saving medicines.
Public servants are called to be the first to serve and the last to be served, just parents do not go with while their children go without. This is a responsibility that each recognizes before becoming a candidate for office. It's time for our elected officials to consider the well-being of Alabama's families who can't make ends meet on the two or more jobs they hold, as well as those who can't find a job despite their best efforts.
If Gov. Riley vetos the pay increase, legislators have one last chance to look in the eyes of their brethren and decide who more so needs and deserves a helping hand. If our elected leaders truly are their brother's keeper, they won't override a veto to reinstitute such a narrow, self-serving use of taxpayer dollars.
Alabama's elected officials should take pause and contemplate the words of Franklin Roosevelt when he stated, “government does error, and rulers do make mistakes, but The Lord does not weigh the sins of the kind and the cruel-hearted on the same scale of justice. Better the occasional errors with government acting in the spirit of charity, than the constant omissions of government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”
Attorney Jeremy Sherer is a Birmingham, Ala., resident who ran for a seat in the state Legislature last year.