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Government pay inequity is our fault

How is it that we’ve all managed to let government get so screwed up?

Don’t get defensive, I’m not pointing the finger at you specifically, but at all of us who have simply put up with some really backwards things about government — local, state and federal.

On the federal level, we’ve likely all seen the statistics on the high number of people who are elected to the U.S. Congress as relatively normal Americans relative to their earnings, but who leave Congress years later in what can clearly be called stinking rich.

All the while, they make far less than members of the military, FBI, CIA or Secret Service, all of whom risk their lives to keep the rest of us safe, not merely create laws and spend taxpayer money.

But it’s not just at the federal level.

Part-time lawmakers in Mississippi earn more than many full-time schoolteachers do.

Does that make sense? Our state’s early leadership certainly never envisioned a system in which lawmakers were so well compensated.

Lawmakers in some other states make much less — which seems fair since the bulk of their work is done in approximately three months out of the year.

What’s even more in addition to their nice salaries and retirement, they get an extra level of retirement funds dedicated just to them. The plan is called the Supplemental Legislative Retirement Plan. It can add up to 50 percent more retirement benefits than a “normal” state worker might have.

Just because they were elected, should they get a higher percentage of retirement funds than other state workers? The answer is: No, they shouldn’t, but they do.

That’s because we’ve allowed this nonsense.

On the local level, it’s no different.

Part-time Natchez aldermen earn as much or more than some full-time police and fire personnel.

Again, that’s a set of messed up priorities that we, the people, have allowed in our government.

So what can be done about this?

Truthfully, correcting such things that our own apathy caused will take time.

First and foremost is that the public must start demanding term limits in all aspects of government.

Most congressmen who serve for decades simply lose touch with real people. They become disconnected from the constituents they serve.

The same could be said for state and local elected leaders, too.

A Biloxi state senator recently announced his plan to retire this year after 52 years in public office.

While such dedication is commendable, one has to wonder how many “blind spots” someone with so many years of service has to real problems.

That’s no criticism of him specifically, just an acknowledgement that staying in one position too long breeds a sense of comfort that can ignore underlying problems. But simply slapping term limits will only solve part of the problem.

The bigger part rests with us.

If you’re frustrated by the apparent inequalities of government, are you willing to get involved and break the chain of apathy that led to the problems?

That means, either encouraging smart, honest and independent-minded thinkers to run for office or running for office yourself. That also means becoming an educated voter and voting in every election — no matter the circumstances and the details of the ballot.

Smaller, more efficient government is a win for all of us, but reining it back in will be a little like herding cats. It can be done, but it’s going to be frustrating and take lots of hands moving in the same direction.

Regardless of whether we act to change or sit on our hands and complain, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

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