It's easy to see where Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman's interest lies, and it certainly isn't with town employees. Over the course of the past 18 months, inflation has ballooned the cost of living for us all. Gasoline prices are up 35 percent, food is 11 percent higher, and the expense of a college education has outpaced the financial abilities of middle-class parents.
Gilbert residents strive to pay their rising utility bills - electric, water, sewage and gas - and still be able to splurge on dinner and a movie. Forget the soda and popcorn. Many town employees now depend on bus service because they can no longer afford driving to work. And despite their efforts, Berman says town employees don't deserve a raise - not given the town's economic insecurities.
This is especially galling coming from a man who has been instrumental in creating this budget shortfall. Excuse me, mayor, but was it recreation leaders at Freestone Park who insisted "if you build it, they will come" before signing the bloated contract with Big League Dreams? I didn't think so.
Evidence suggests that our mayor is more interested in kneeling at the feet of big business and offering tax incentives to wealthy developers - such as Vestar and other significant campaign contributors who, as the mayor likes to say, "vote with their wallets" - than he is in supporting cost-of-living increases for town employees. Whereas Berman felt no ethical violation in supplementing his own income with the perks of office, he begrudges a 3 percent increase to employees living paycheck to paycheck.
Town Manager George Pettit has said recent town revenues are "close to what was projected" and Gilbert could afford the 3 percent wage hike without increasing the sales tax. But after Town Council members voted 4-1 to implement only a 2 percent boost, the mayor groused, "I don't remember ever working in a place where we were entitled to a pay increase every year." That may be true, but given that the mayor has long served in government and spent many years working as an executive for U.S. West, Qwest and Westel, I rather doubt it. Generally those earning six-figure incomes demand a regular bump in compensation.
I notice members of Congress have approved their yearly pay raise; but what's another $4,100 for a group of millionaires earning a paltry $169,300 - plus free air travel and all-expense-paid lobbyist junkets?
And as most Americans scramble to make ends meet, median compensation for the heads of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index was listed as $8.4 million in 2007. The CEOs evidently expected, and received, a 3.5 percent raise. Of course this figure constitutes a $280,000 increase per individual, an amount - I speculate - somewhere in the neighborhood of the aggregate sum of the additional 1 percent denied 1,100 Gilbert employees.
But, lest we assume the salaries of the rich and powerful are based on job performance, we only need look at the incomes of America's 10 highest-paid CEOs to rid ourselves of that illusion. While serving as CEO of Merrill Lynch, a company requesting an expensive 2008 government bailout to survive, John Thain was listed as 2007's top earning executive. Thain recklessly headed a company shelling out billions in bad loans, yet received an impressive signing bonus and benefits totaling $83.1 million. In fact, more than half of 2007's highest-paid CEOs guided their companies to near bankruptcy - and shrinking profit margins - while receiving hefty increases in take-home pay.
Clearly the priorities of those determining salaries in the U.S. are way off track. Most of us agree that hard-working Americans deserve compensation adequate to cover standard living expenses. Nobody working 40 hours a week should face debilitating debt in order to provide themselves, or their family, with nutritional food, adequate housing and timely medical attention. Especially not during a recession created, for the most part, by the economic miscues of government and corporate masters above them.
Sandi Glauser is a Gilbert resident.