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Commentary: Taking a Salary

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder have something in common. Both had successful business careers before politics. When both were first elected, they promised not to take a salary, since both their jurisdictions, city and state, had severe budget problems. Then, both changed their minds.

Last year Mayor Bing announced that he was now accepting his salary, which is about $158,000 a year. He had been donating all of it to the police department.

Last week, Governor Snyder, who worked for a dollar his first year on the job, said he was getting paid his full salary this year, which is just slightly more than Mayor Bing’s. He did say he would consider donating a significant portion to charity.

Now, when Mayor Bing decided to accept his pay, he was criticized for that. I am sure there must also be people saying the same about the governor. He is a multi-millionaire, after all, who spent millions of his own money on his election campaign.

Why does he need a salary from our poor impoverished state?

Well, I think the critics are off base. I think both the mayor and governor should be accepting their salaries, and I had mixed emotions when they refused to take the money in the first place.

And here’s why: We don’t want a government where only millionaires can afford to hold office. Actually, we are too close now to having politics turn into an exclusive club for the rich, thanks to the huge sums needed for campaigning and entertaining.

That wasn’t always the case. Within a few days after he became President, Gerald Ford reportedly asked his chief of staff when he could expect his first paycheck. Seems the tuition bill was due for one of his college-age children. Well, it has been a long time since we’ve had a President who was anything close to poor.

But those of modest means can and do get elected to other offices, and I don‘t think we want a government of only the rich. We need at least a few people making our laws who know what it‘s like to have to stretch a paycheck till the end of the month.

What does that have to do with a rich guy not accepting a paycheck he really doesn’t need? Well, if wealthy politicians stop accepting compensation, a stigma could develop against anyone accepting pay, or a bias against electing those who do need to be paid.

That would be wrong because, despite the constant attack these days on public jobs and public salaries, doing the people’s business is important work, and should be compensated accordingly.

There’s nothing immoral about paying for a service. Now, if Mayor Bing wants to accept his pay and donate it to the parks and recreation department, that’s fine with me. If the governor wants to use his money to buy 10,000 children pet hamsters, that should be fine by all of us too. Except maybe the kids’ moms.

You get what you pay for, and Michigan wants and deserves the best possible goods and services, including public services.

The profit motive is a powerful motivator. And as every businessman knows, there really ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

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