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How Legislators Are Getting You To Approve Their Pay Raises

CA gov jerry brown

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Photo by Will Davison / The Signal

California doesn’t just have some of the nation’s most embarrassing budget problems; it also has some of the most overpaid politicians. Not even severe budget problems that led to massive cuts to basic government services can stop politicians in the Golden State from giving themselves a raise.

To make matters worse, a political reform that was supposed to limit politicians’ pay has been used to give them the raise. The Los Angeles Times reported that the California Citizens’ Compensation Commission voted to increase the pay of elected officials, including state legislators and the governor, by 5 percent. The Commission did this to reward officials for balancing the budget.

The problem is that the officials didn’t balance the budget; voters did that by approving an initiative that raised taxes by $6 billion in November. In other words, elected officials are being rewarded for asking voters to raise taxes! Wilma Wallace, a member of the commission, told the Times that she thought Gov. Jerry Brown had done a “fantastic job” by getting the initiative on the ballot and getting it passed.

Unelected Boards Make Policy While Legislators Take Home the Money

The Commission’s action effectively raises the yearly salary of California state legislators from $90,520 to $95,291. It also raises the pay of the governor by around $12,000 a year.

This is not how the system is supposed to work. The commission is one of a number of advisory bodies of unelected citizens (political hacks) set up in an attempt to take politics out of decision making in California. These bodies have effectively been taken over by the Democratic Party, which controls California’s state legislature.

Although, it should be noted that California politicians’ pay is still lower than it was a couple of years ago. The Commission did cut state officials’ pay by around 10 percent during a budget crisis last year. Of course, the commission can easily restore the other 5 percent at any time and then start raising the salaries again.

The system lets legislators off the hook because they can blame the commission for any unpopular actions. Worse, it gives political operatives a means of rewarding and punishing politicians. If the legislator does what the operatives want, he gets rewarded with a pay raise. If he doesn’t do what they want, the commission cuts his pay.

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Is the California System Coming to Your State?

We should worry about what’s happening in California right now because political trends that start in that state often sweep the nation. The California example of ballot initiatives that raise taxes followed by increases in pay for politicians might be coming to your state.

Democrats and their allies, such as teachers’ unions, will put the initiative on the ballot claiming it is necessary to balance the budget or provide more money for schools. The real reason will be to raise taxes across the board and increase the size of government.

Once it passes, most of the new revenue will quickly be diverted into raises for government employees or politicians. One of the first things Governor Brown did with the $6 billion revenue was to approve a 4.5 percent pay increase for unionized state employees in California. Government employees’ unions are a key Democratic constituency, and Brown is a Democrat.

State Tax Increases Coming Nationwide

Now that this has worked in California, Democrats are sure to try it elsewhere, including Colorado. Since many states are facing budget crises, such ballot measures will be offered as solutions.

The Democrats may try to sneak the measures onto the ballot by having “grassroots” organizations such as unions place them there. That way the politicians don’t get the blame for raising taxes. They may also deliberately downplay the measures to get them passed.

That means you should be very careful when you vote this year and next year. Take a close look at the ballot and see what measures the legislature or grass roots groups have added. If you have an off-year election, be extra careful because fewer people vote in the off year, so Democrats might be more likely to put the tax increase measure on the ballot then.

How Tax Increase Ballot Initiatives Might Work

A sure sign that such a tax increase ballot measure is coming to your state is that the media will suddenly be filled with talk of a fiscal crisis. Officials and others will be all over the news warning of budget cuts and the damage they will do to education and children. There will be warnings that school roofs will leak and children won’t have textbooks.

Then in the middle of the crisis, the ballot initiative will be offered as the solution. It’ll be heavily promoted through social media and other word-of-mouth methods. One method will be having your child’s teachers ask you to vote for the measure in order to help the children learn.

Another tactic used in California is to put a number of different measures on the ballot. A liberal political operative in California sponsored her initiative in opposition to Brown’s. Such a method can confuse voters and make the official tax increase seem reasonable.

It’s About the Money

The situation in California shows what politicians really care about: the money. They will go to any length to preserve their big salaries and keep raising them, even if they have to manufacture a fiscal crisis and give themselves a temporary pay cut to do it.

It also shows why we should be skeptical of any voluntary or involuntary cut in pay taken by politicians. They would not take such a move unless they already had a plan for restoring the lost pay in place. That seems to be the case in California; Brown and the legislators took the pay cut because they knew the Commission would restore it in the future.

What’s worse is that such pay cuts are actually a means of getting taxes increased. Politicians cut their salaries then tell voters that they are willing to belt tighten in order to make a tax increase more palatable to voters.

That’s another tactic that politicians in other states may use if they try to bring in a tax increase ballot measure. First they’ll cut their salary and make sure the action gets plenty of media coverage. Then they will offer the tax increase and say that they are sharing in the people’s pain by taking less money.

Expect to see the hypocritical farce we’ve just seen in California played out all over the nation in the years to come. Don’t be at all surprised if a variation of the California strategy isn’t tried in your state.

If you see or hear your state legislators talk about taking a pay cut, get worried. That’s probably a sign that they’re planning to raise your taxes.

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