Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Carl DeMaio’s salary

Jerry Stratton, May 15, 2012

I was on my way out for some barbecue on Saturday and checked my mailbox. Inside was an anti-DeMaio flier in the mail from “San Diegans for Nathan Fletcher”. It said something surprising:

After voting to cut workers’ pay by 6%, City Councilman Carl DeMaio refused to cut his own pay.

The same thing is on Assemblyman Fletcher’s campaign site.

I laughed when I read it, and thought, there’s a good chance the reason DeMaio didn’t cut his pay after voting for a San Diego pay cut is that DeMaio cut his pay before the vote. When I returned from lunch, I looked it up, and it turns out that’s pretty much exactly what happened.

When he took office, before the City Council vote, DeMaio chose to cut $37,059 from his pay. He declined city contributions to his pension fund; that’s $27,459 a year. He also refused a “city automobile allowance”; that’s $9,600 a year.1

Fletcher claims that these payments don’t count as part of “his own pay”. That attitude is part of the problem and a big part of why government spending on employees has bloated enough to risk bankrupting so many cities. Businessmen know—because they’re paying it—that the money for employee benefits is part of what they pay their employees. Politicians try not to count benefits as part of spending, and they can because it doesn’t come out of their pocket.

When politicians force your employer to provide benefits, the money to cover those benefits comes out of your pay—regardless of whether the politicians refuse to let your employer say this. That $37,059 that DeMaio declined is part of what we pay councilmembers. Using the city council salary of $75,386 and those two benefits as his total pay2, he cut his pay by 33% before voting to cut city worker pay by 6%.

We have to get out of the mindset that just because what we pay employees doesn’t show up directly in their take-home pay, it somehow doesn’t cost us any money. That’s part of how we got into the mess we’re in now. City and state politicians hide the pay of government employees outside of salary3, and then claim that government employees don’t make enough money. While, judging from DeMaio’s salary, San Diego City Councilmembers make slightly less than I do as a web programmer, they get a hell of a lot more benefits. Their retirement funding alone is almost three times as much as I get. In order to make sure I have enough for retirement, I have to pay out of my salary; City Councilmembers don’t. Since DeMaio refused the city pension, he does.4

If the university were to cut their contribution to my retirement plan, so that I would have to divert more of my salary to make up the difference, I’d be justifiably complaining about them cutting my pay. DeMaio cut his pay by not accepting that money.

There is real bloat in off-salary benefits. They have to be counted as part of city employee pay if we’re going to have a serious discussion about how much we’re paying city employees.

In response to California 2012: 2012 is going to be a very important election for San Diego. Do we continue to reform the city’s financial state, or do we resume the path to insolvency?

  1. Note that I think the auto allowance has since been dropped but I can’t be sure. Without the allowance, DeMaio “only” cut his pay by 27%.

  2. The true number is certainly higher, since I see no figures for health benefits. There are almost certainly other benefits to working for the city, especially as a council member. Those additional benefits will, by increasing city council pay, reduce the percentage that DeMaio reduced his pay by.

    If the additional benefits change DeMaio’s 33% drop to a less than 6% drop, however, City Councilmembers are paid far too much.

  3. Some places pay can be increased in extra benefits: health plans that don’t require copays; health plans that don’t require an employee contribution; retirement payments; high overtime pay; above average vacation time; lenient sick policy; cashing in on unused vacation and/or sick time; lenient paid leave policies; early retirement plans.

  4. Having started his own business years ago and succeeded, he may already have enough saved for retirement. But as far as I can tell the city pension is on top of any other savings you have, so he has still cut his pay significantly by refusing the city pension.

  1. <- Fair and open
  2. Nathan Fletcher, desperate? ->