Legislative pay hikes disappoint, yet hope on other issues remains

December 19, 2012 

When House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz assumed their new positions of power last month, both talked about a fresh bipartisan approach in their opening speeches.

Both vowed to fix the state's fractured elections system. Both pledged strong new ethics laws to rein in elected officials.

For all their bluster about changing the culture in Tallahassee, Weatherford and Gaetz succumbed to the politics as usual business.

The two legislative leaders sent the wrong message to taxpayers with last week's disclosure that they rewarded their own staffs hefty raises at a time when salaries for other state employees continue to languish after six consecutive years without increases.

Combined, Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, will be paying 62 policy advisers and staff directors more than $100,000 annually.

Seventeen staffers are in line to rake in raises totaling more than $250,000 -- roughly $14,500 apiece on average. Gaetz's new chief of staff saw his salary soar by $74,000 to a whopping $150,000.

Even Florida's elected Cabinet members do not earn that much.

The lesson here is unmistakable: Government can be quite lucrative to a select few.

According to a Herald/Times analysis, Weatherford's top executive staffers will by paid a total of $3.5 million while Gaetz's will receive $3.8 million.

This is hardly the fiscal conservatism we've witnessed over the past few years of budget slashing, jobs cuts and salary freezes.

Last year, the Legislature even shrank the take-home pay of state workers by requiring a 3 percent contribution into pensions in the Florida Retirement System. The state Supreme Court has yet to rule on the challenge to the law from labor unions.

The two presiding officers of the Legislature defend their actions as vital to attracting and retaining talented staff -- the same rationale we hear whenever someone's receiving a giant pay increase or bonus while rank-and-file workers get nothing.

After their opening statements indicated a political sea change was about to wash over Tallahassee, this salary issue is a disappointing development but one we hope is not a sign of a continuation of old-school politics.

Talk's cheap. We want to see both walk the walk on bipartisanship, ethics and elections, as promised.

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