Criticizing elected officials keeps them on their toes, especially when it’s deserved. When they give themselves pay raises, the temptation to shoot first and ask questions later is strong.
Vineland’s mayor and council members approved doubling salaries for themselves barely two months after taking office. The jobs also are considered part-time, so the red flag before taxpayers could hardly be bigger and brighter. We resisted the urge to charge before sorting out the facts.
For starters, raising government salaries at the start of a term is one of two common ways to do so. The other is increasing them in a lame-duck session right after an election, effective with the start of the next term. Either way, the idea is to minimize how much weight voters/taxpayers give the increase when evaluating the term-long performance of officials seeking re-election.
One way or another, elected administrators and legislators determine their own salaries. They answer to the voters, who can remove them if they think they’re overpaid for what they do. Basic democracy seems about as ethical as government can be.
The Vineland pay raises might seem outrageous, but not compared, say, to those for Rahway officials. They more than tripled the mayor’s salary to $72,000 a year in 2015. Note that Rahway, in Union County, has a population of about 27,000, less than half Vineland’s 60,000. And the Rahway mayor as a councilman had pushed for drastic cuts in the previous mayor’s pay.
Vineland Mayor Anthony Fanucci gets credit for making a condition of his raise that the city will no longer provide him health benefits worth about $30,000 a year, the same as the salary increase.
Some residents said part-time jobs don’t merit the higher salaries. The hours worked by council members and the mayor aren’t known. One resident said the jobs seem close to full time.
We don’t see anything much out of the ordinary in the timing of the increases and the salary levels to be reached in two years.
Absent that, we find this convincing: The last raise for Vineland mayor and council was 30 years ago. Adjusting for consumer-price inflation, the $30,000 a mayor was paid in 1987 is the same as $64,130 today, and the $5,000 a council member made then is equal to $10,688 today.
Yes, that means that even after these pay increases, Vineland’s mayor and council members will be paid less than their counterparts were three decades ago in real, inflation-adjusted dollars.
An economist headlining the pay-raise story might write, “Vineland officials get smaller pay cut.”
How they do their jobs in the coming years should matter much more to taxpayers and voters than these belated salary adjustments.