Today’s Editorial for April 23: Ten to 15 per cent

You know its election season when the people running for office start talking about a pay cut…for themselves.

We’re starting to hear this refrain quite frequently in the campaign rhetoric. Several candidates mentioned it during one-on-one interviews with the Caymanian Compass, a group of independent candidates spoke about it at a political rally on Saturday, and a question was asked about it during a Chamber of Commerce candidates’ forum on Tuesday to thunderous applause.

It’s a great sentiment. When times are tough it makes it seem as though elected officials feel the pain of those who are struggling. It also gives the impression that elected officers are ready to do their part to reduce an operating deficit in the government’s budget that ballooned to $29 million this year.

But let’s look at what this ‘ten to 15 per cent’ pay cut accomplishes in practical terms.

We don’t know what the individual salaries of the 15 elected officials who currently sit in Legislative Assembly are because they won’t tell us. Freedom of Information requests made by the Compass for the salaries of dozens of government employees, including elected lawmakers, are awaiting a legal ruling from the attorney general’s office.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s presume that Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition make $150,000 a year, and MLA’s make, say, $90,000 a year. Add those all together and you get just a shade over $1.7 million in salaries for elected officials. We’d bet our estimate isn’t too far from wrong.

A ten per cent across-the-board pay cut would reduce those costs by roughly $170,000. That’ll save maybe two to four jobs of civil servants when pension and health care costs are factored in. Perhaps it may buy a bit of asphalt to pave a small section of road, or give a local community centre the ability to make some needed repairs.

But it won’t pay for $6 million in CUC subsidies; or the $9 million needed to repair hurricane damage on Cayman Brac; or the $6 million spent so far on the special police investigation of alleged corruption within the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service; or even the $600,000 spent on this year’s National Heroes Day celebration.

In real terms, a ten to 15 per cent pay cut for elected lawmakers accomplishes very little in the way of reducing a $29 million operating deficit.

As far as the symbolic benefits go, would it really make you ‘feel better’ to know lawmakers were taking a pay cut in tough times? Why?

If you’ve lost your job, does an elected officials’ pay cut help you get another one?

Wouldn’t you rather the people you choose to put in office earn that full paycheque by coming up with solutions to fix the major issues facing the country, staying late into the night and working on weekends to address the big picture?

Or do you prefer window-dressing pay cuts and election-time happy-talk that may make you feel better in the short term, but that solve few problems in the end?