Thirty-One Legislators’ Pay Does Not a Turnaround Beget

The latest political news meme in Rhode Island has been the public declaration of 31 General Assembly legislators that they intend to forgo their scheduled salary increases:

Starting this month, the annual salary for most members of the part-time state legislature rises from $14,185.96 to $14,639.90. The salaries for House Speaker Gordon D. Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, who make twice as much as other lawmakers, went from $28,371.92 to $29,279.80.

Neither Fox nor Paiva Weed is on the “no raise” list, meaning that the election-year move will save the state all of $14,072 on its $8,099,856,384 (that is, 0.000174%). As Monique Chartier notes on Anchor Rising, an additional legislator, Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (D, Woonsocket) has modified the pledge so as to get some charitable-giving credit — allocating her $494 to local charities, in a sort of one-person legislative grant.  Here’s the full list of self-restraining legislators, as provided to the Current by Senate Director of Communications Greg Pare:

  • House of Representatives:
    • Jon Brien (D, Woonsocket)
    • Michael Chippendale (R, Coventry, Foster, Glocester)
    • Doreen Costa (R, Exeter, North Kingstown)
    • Laurence Ehrhardt (R, North Kingstown)
    • Frank Ferri (D, Warwick)
    • Joy Hearn (D, Barrington, East Providence)
    • Raymond Johnston (D, Pawtucket)
    • Cale Keable (D, Burrillville, Glocester)
    • Jan Malik (D, Barrington, Warren)
    • James McLaughlin (D, Central Falls, Cumberland)
    • Rene Menard (D, Cumberland, Lincoln)
    • Jeremiah O’Grady (D, Lincoln, Pawtucket)
    • Daniel Reilly (R, Middletown, Newport, Portsmouth)
    • Patricia Serpa (D, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick)
    • Donna Walsh (D, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly)
  • Senate:
    • Dennis Algiere (R, Charlestown, Westerly)
    • David Bates (R, Barrington, Bristol)
    • Marc Cote (D, North Smithfield, Woonsocket)
    • Paul Fogarty (D, Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield)
    • Dawson Hodgson (R, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, Warwick)
    • Paul Jabour (D, Providence)
    • Nicholas Kettle (R, Coventry, Foster, Scituate)
    • Francis Maher (R, Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich)
    • Michael McCaffrey (D, Warwick)
    • Harold Metts (D, Providence)
    • Edward O’Neill (I, Lincoln, North Providence, Pawtucket)
    • Christopher Ottiano (R, Bristol, Portsmouth)
    • Roger Picard (D, Cumberland, Woonsocket)
    • James Sheehan (D, Narragansett, North Kingstown)
    • Glenford Shibley (R, Coventry, East Greenwich, Warwick, West Warwick)
    • William Walaska (D, Warwick)

While considering this strong showing of 21% of the House (including Baldelli-Hunt) and 42% of the Senate, Rhode Islanders should keep in mind some contemporaneous news.  As I reported on Friday:

Since Rhode Island’s peak employment in December 2006, the labor force has dropped by 21,910 people.  If it hadn’t, unemployment would now be 14.2%.

Worse still, RI is dead last among states in the percentage distance of its employment from that peak, and it’s one of just four states that have been on a downward trend since early 2010.  No other states, by the way, share all of these qualities: Nevada beats Rhode Island in current unemployment rate, but its employment is closer to its peak; Michigan is almost as far as Rhode Island from its peak, but its employment has been on the increase for two years.

As symbolic as refusing a raise may be — and as consistent as that symbol may be with some of the politicians’ records — voters might want to consider how a few thousand dollars balances against a legislative session that ratcheted up the cost of living and the difficulty of making a living in Rhode Island while doing nothing to stop or reverse the state’s uniquely horrible downward spiral.

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