Tuesday, July 5, 2011
GOP Speaker Thom Tillis caught with finger in hypocrisy cookie jar
NOTE: Be patient as the time to upload this flog may be more lengthy than usual. Click on the link below to access the flog which has a running time of approximately twenty minutes. Audio is required.
Despite my criticism of The News & Observer’s blatant and well established anti-Nifong bias, it deserves a few kudus every now and then for doing what a good media outlet should do… which is to inform the public about misdeeds and malfeasance amongst public officials. On its Saturday, June 11, 2011 front page, it boldly called out the North Carolina Republican Speaker of the House Thom Tillis for giving outrageous pay hikes to half of his staff, some as high as 27%. This comes at a time when the budget is being slashed with draconian relish by the power-mongering Republican party. It is also at the expense of many Tar Heelians who are unemployed and living on the fringes barely able to survive and who are dependent on the services and programs that are being downsized or eliminated.
According to the article, Tillis’ general counsel Jason Kay received the 27% pay raise bringing his annual salary from $110,000 to $140,000. That’s a $30,000 raise during an economic downturn in which the state’s unemployment rate is at its highest… in large measure thanks to the recently Republican veto-overridden budget which counted many of its victims as state employees whose jobs were shelved. Not only that, but according to Dana Cope of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, the last time most state workers received a raise was three years ago due to the recession, and any raises that were authorized never even approached 27%.
Another benefactor of Speaker Tillis’ largess was Chief of Staff Charles Thomas whose annual pay was bumped by $30,000, too… from $120,000 to $150,000. Two other noticeable pay hikes mentioned in the article went to Christopher Hayes and Amy Hobbs, both of whom were hired in January 2011 as policy advisers at a salary of $70,000, and within six months saw their yearly income balloon to $82,000.
Thom Tillis, who is quite talented when it comes to obfuscation, stated that the initial $70,000 salary the new hires received was probationary and that they would get more money if they performed well. In other words, according to Speaker Tillis, if the new hires did not perform well, they would not get a raise. That just doesn’t make sense. In most business models if new employees do not perform well during the probationary period, they’re fired. This is the typical type of Republican double-speak that I find insulting. But the speaker believes that most Tar Heelians are stupid.
Prior to April 2011, Tillis had a fourteen person staff, and in all, seven of them, including the aforementioned, received raises. Information about the other three who received raises was not presented in the article. Then, in May 2011, amid firings, layoffs, Thom Tillis hired another person to join his staff at a salary of $70,000. The position title was not mentioned, nor was there any clarification as to whether or not the $70,000 amount was probationary.
Not long ago, in January, Tillis boasted that his office payroll would be 17% lower than his predecessor Joe Hackney by hiring fewer people and lowering salaries. However, actions speak louder than words, and as it turns out, Tillis’ payroll is ten percent higher and his staff is larger than Hackney. This hypocrisy when it comes to pay for the staff of the legislative leader is not restricted to a single party. According to Cope, Tillis and others “always find a way to give their staff members higher salaries and pay raises than the rest of state government.”
I do not stand alone in my indignation at the pay raises doled out by Speaker Tillis. Arlene Pulley-Morris of Leland, North Carolina, wrote an insightful letter to The News & Observer that appeared in its People’s Forum on June 16, 2011. In 1975 the Speaker of the House had one full-time employee and three part-time employees; Ms. Pulley-Morris was that full-time employee. She states that the staff for the speaker’s office has swollen to eighteen. Her credible assessment is that payment of these abundant salaries and the inexplicable increase in staff size is a waste of Tar Heelian taxpayer dollars. I fully agree. Furthermore, I applaud her for having the courage to enlighten us about what is going on at the General Assembly. As she also stated, she is of the opinion that “everyone is afraid to speak up because they will be punished by the speaker.”
In the paper’s People’s Forum of June 14, 2011, Valorie Jones of Raleigh, Karen Padgett of Garner, and Martha Hayes of Raleigh also voiced their displeasure at Speaker Tillis’ wasteful actions. Ms. Jones asked Tillis to explain why his staff is given raises when the state is forced to lay off teachers and teaching assistants; cuts are made to child care which allows poor single mothers to hold down jobs; medical and dental health for the uninsured poor is diminishing; and other sacrifices are made due to dire financial straits. Like Ms. Jones, I would very much like an explanation as well.
Ms. Padgett, a veteran teacher, expressed her outrage at Tillis’ raises for his staff, stating that she hadn’t received a raise in years while those in the General Assembly are asking her to do more in the classroom with less.
Ms. Hayes stated that Speaker Tillis should be ashamed for the raises given while Wake County teacher assistant positions are being cut to 90%. Again, I wholeheartedly agree.
In the June 17th People’s Forum, David Lea, of Raleigh, and Connie Schafer, of Apex, opine about their unhappiness over Tillis’ pay raises. Mr. Lea, who admits to being a Republican, noted that the June 11th headline “Tillis gives his staff fat raises,” was clearly understated. Unconscionable, indefensible, egregious, insensitive, and tone-deaf are adjectives Mr. Lea believes are far more worthy.
Ms. Schafer pointed out that many state employees put Tillis and other state Republicans in office and now they are being laid off in droves while not seeing a pay raise in nearly four years. That really is not surprising, as the GOP is a party which puts the privileged, the powerful, and profits ahead of the needs of the masses of people who struggle to buy food, put gas in their cars, and pay for the mortgage on their homes that is most likely underwater. She got it right, and it bears repeating. “It is a slap in the face of each one of them for Tillis to pass a budget that will lay off workers, add a fourth year of no raises, and increase health care costs while handing out raises to a privileged few.” Unfortunately, Republicans, who are masters of obfuscation, will continue to use Jedi mind-tricks and false and misleading rhetoric to skillfully persuade state employees and others to elect to office Republicans who will work against the best interests of those who are vulnerable, downtrodden, disenfranchised, and hardworking Americans who are trying to get by.
Without doubt, the Republican Party works for the interests of corporations, big business, and the well healed, seeking tax breaks and doing whatever else it can, including outsourcing American jobs and manufacturing overseas, to increase its bottom line.
Three letters appeared in the Sunday Forum section of The News & Observer of June 19th, written by Robert I. Bruck, Ph.D., Ken Andrews, and Evelyn Holland, all from Cary. Dr. Bruck wrote that at first he thought the 12 to 27% pay raises to Tillis’ staff was a joke. He read the proposed budget which specifically stated “no pay raises to state employees” for a third consecutive year. Then, for Tillis to reward his state employees with huge raises is like rubbing salt in the wounds.
Mr. Andrews questioned the raises handed out after a probationary period was completed. As Mr. Andrews stated, it makes no sense to give a probationary raise. The incentive for working hard and doing an outstanding job during a probationary period is to hold on to the job… not get a raise. That is unheard of, and it is what makes Tillis’ excuse for the raises lack credibility. Put another way, according to Tillis, if a worker performs poorly or unsatisfactorily during a probationary period, he/she remains employed at the initial salary and is not given a raise. It makes no sense, but Mr. Tillis expects the people to believe him.
Ms. Holland expressed how disappointed she was in Tillis’ pay raises to his staff, and suggested that it wasn’t just Democrats who were disgusted, but some Republicans, too. Those disgusted Republicans, I would venture to guess, are not from the privileged class, but have bought into the Republicans’ lofty words and rhetoric which belie their true motives and actions.
I have been reading the People’s Forum section of The News & Observer since the story about Tillis’ raises appeared. I have found nine opinions fiercely against Tillis’ actions, but have found none in praise of the raises he meted out using taxpayer dollars. The reason is most likely due to the fact that no such letters were submitted… otherwise, at least one or more would have been published to give the subject matter an alternative view or more balance.
I believe the speaker should be accountable to the people to explain how taxpayer money is being spent. I have serious reservations about the large staff at the speaker’s disposal and the salaries they enjoy. Furthermore, I question the need for the May 2011 hire, especially during this debilitating recession. We do not even know the new hire’s job title or description.
Unless the speaker can give reasonable and compelling reasons for the number of his staff and the compensation that they receive, then I would recommend that Thom Tillis rescind the ill-advised fat raises that half of his staff received. In addition, I believe that he should trim not only the number of his staff but compensation packages they receive, as I have no doubt that they are excessive.
Consider, for example, the two policy advisers. What exactly is their job description, and how many are on his staff? How many hours a week do they put in on the job? When the legislature is not in session, what work is being done by the speaker’s staff and how is it audited? Regarding Tillis’ general counsel, why is there a need for his services as a staff member? What hours does he devote to serving the speaker? Does the general counsel receive other income? What work is being conducted by the general counsel when the legislation is not in session? The same questions could be applied to the Chief of Staff for the Speaker of the House, as well as the other staff members whose titles, job descriptions, and incomes are unknown.
Unfortunately I believe that many of the people in power have a tendency to lavish themselves, their cronies, and sycophants with exorbitant compensation and benefits while transferring the burden of making up their avaricious excesses by cutting jobs, salaries, benefits, services and programs for others who are scraping hard just to survive.
Government employees such as firefighters and police put their lives on the line daily to protect lives and property, often working in harsh and unpredictable situations. Maintenance and sewer workers, trash collectors, and those employed to keep the roads cleared and paved and the infrastructure safe and sound makes everyday life comfortable and tranquil. Teachers, teacher assistants, and those who work as janitors and cooks in our public school system help to assure that children will get an education that will help prepare them to meet future challenges and take advantages of opportunities. These individuals all have a job that most people can comprehend the effort exerted by them and their value to society.
The same cannot be said for the staff of Speaker Tillis. What does a policy adviser do? How many hours a week does he/she work? Does a policy adviser work when legislature is not in session?... which is most of the year. Why does Tillis need two policy advisers? Does he have more than two? I do not know the salaries of all of the speaker’s staff members, but I do not believe they deserve to be paid double and triple that of teachers, policemen, firemen, maintenance people, and others who work full-time and year round and make solid and meaningful contributions. The speaker’s staff’s hours and job description are vague, ambiguous, and murky, which makes it difficult, if not impossible to appreciate their positions.
Because we taxpayers are providing money to pay for salaries and benefits of Thom Tillis’s staff, we have right to know what we’re getting in return for investing in their salaries. I am inclined to believe that the money set aside for the outrageous raises and the new position on Tillis’ staff, is nothing more than an extravagant waste of taxpayer money. If Mr. Tillis cannot give a satisfactory explanation for graciously handing out pay raises during the presence of our local and national recession, then I would recommend that he invalidate the raises given to his staff and dissolve the unidentified position for which he hired someone in May 2011.
In other words, we should all demand that Thom Tillis be held accountable for the January 2011 promise he made to Tar Heelians to set an example for others in state government by cutting his office payroll. As Mr. Lea stated, the example that Mr. Tillis has set thus far is unconscionable, indefensible, egregious, insensitive, and tone-deaf.