A city manager in Bozeman, Montana is in hot water after publicly slamming the city of Austin and the prospect of taking a job there. Perhaps most shocking of all, the now-suspended city manager claimed that the position came with a base salary of $475,000 plus “ the car allowance, the housing allowance, all the other stupid things that city managers get.”
While the city of Austin has yet to confirm the validity of this eye-popping offer, it’s not unthinkable that it was made. For years, the compensation packages offered to public sector elites have been getting bigger and more outlandish.
A major problem with excessive public sector salaries is, of course, that struggling Texas families must shoulder the cost of paying for them, usually in the form of higher property taxes. And as past research has shown, property taxes continue to be a big problem. With these increased tax collections, many governments have benefitted themselves. Previous reports show that city managers have received base salaries upwards of $250,000, and school superintendents, a base salary upwards of $340,000. Keep in mind that these salaries do not account for additional benefits funded by taxpayers.
The current state of play violates good government and commonsense. After all, no one should get rich from public service, nor should the cost of government be so great that it crushes the average person. And yet, here we are.
Now more than ever, local government officials should be tightening their collective belts and recommitting to fiscal discipline, especially considering the economic turmoil in the U.S. today. Now is not the time to be spendthrift.
Getting a handle on sky-high salaries is just one way to ease the cost of local government and alleviate the burden of soaring tax bills. Ideally, cities and school districts will voluntarily move to reform compensation on their own; but given their long track record of resistance, it may be time for the Texas Legislature to take action on behalf of taxpayers to curb the worst abuses and put up guardrails.
Much like in other areas, local government excesses in the compensation realm are creating pressures and problems that ought to be addressed through meaningful policy change that moves us in a better direction. Fortunately, those substantive changes are not controversial—or at least shouldn’t be. After all, no serious policy person can argue that government employees should get rich from their public service.