Editorial: Fine examples in tough times

Island County Commissioners John Dean, Helen Price Johnson and Angie Homola deserve the community’s appreciation for deciding to share the pain of these difficult budgetary times.

The commissioners sacrificed their car allowances to help balance the county budget, and show employees that the people on top are also suffering financially. The cut amounts to $700 monthly for each commissioner, approximately 10 percent of their annual income.

The commissioners are still mulling over how to fill the latest budget gap, that now stands at $2 million. But they gained a lot of credibility by cutting their own incomes first. Perhaps more layoffs will be necessary, or furloughs or across-the-board pay and benefit cuts. It won’t be easy, but the commissioners now have the credibility to do the job.

Another outstanding example of sacrifice was recently made by the Washington State Ferries unions, who decided to forego scheduled pay increases in light of the severe budget crisis. It happened without a lot of fanfare but should set a precedent for other state employees in these difficult times. Olympia is facing an astounding $8 billion shortfall in revenue over the next two years, and everyone will have to share the pain.

Our Washington state legislators have been remiss to date in not making any personal financial sacrifices. It’s time to cut their own salaries and benefits before telling others to do the same.

Elected officials at all levels must rethink policies put in place to assure their own salaries and cost of living increases. In the past, they’ve had to vote for their own pay hikes. Now they take effect automatically, or by law can’t be decreased. The public needs accountability, even if it makes life a little more uncomfortable for our representatives. The reason the Island County commissioners cut their car allowances instead of their salaries is that state law forbids a salary cut.

Pay and benefit cuts aren’t easy, but if done across-the-board, more people will keep their jobs, the public will be better served, and respect for our elected officials will increase. The Island County commissioners and ferry workers have taken the lead. Now it’s time for Olympia and Washington, D.C., to follow.

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