I think it is beyond silly for Wisconsin's Supreme Court justices, circuit court judges and Court of Appeals judges to take pay cuts "to help balance the budget," but apparently I stand alone.
The Capital Times editorial page opined in favor of the judges' decision to rescind their own scheduled pay increases, saying it proves they are not "out of touch" when it comes to our state's current fiscal crisis. I have already complained in this space about how the folly of voluntary pay cuts and pay freezes for legislators has been at the top of the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page's agenda this year.
Indeed, I have scoured the state's newspapers and blogs and have not found a single opinion that is consistent with mine on this issue. Am I really the only one?
The Capital Times editorial admits that the judges' grand gesture will save the state less than $2 million. That's not much when you consider we are running something like a $7 billion deficit. But apparently the stewards at the city's former afternoon newspaper like the symbolism of a good pay cut. In words my parents might have used, they want judges to set a good example.
But what this really symbolizes, I think, is that judges are as inclined to pander to unthinking voters and editorial page editors as other public officials. That political and public-relations considerations dictate the work of judges and Supreme Court justices just as they do legislators, governors and other politicians.
Pay cuts are all the rage these days.
The old rule was that as long as you kept your job during a depression, you were in good shape. Your investments, if you had them, would decline along with everyone else's, but your wages would stay the same or increase while prices fell. Goods and services have to be cheaper so that people who lose jobs can still afford to buy things. Their loss is your gain.
This is still the case for the most part, but in Depression 2008-2009, pioneering capitalists have brought us the glorious business innovation of actual pay cuts. You do the same work only for less money. When Hewlett Packard instituted a policy of 5% across-the-board pay cuts in February it was seen as first big company to do this in the history of American business.
Businesses say they are forced to cut pay to avoid layoffs, but fewer than one in five workers say they would accept a pay cut to keep their jobs. Either way, everyone acknowledges that pay cuts are a bad thing: at best, the next-worst thing to layoffs.
We want people to have more money so they spend more money and stimulate the depressed economy. More spending leads to more production, which leads to business growth and job creation. I hope I'm not losing anyone here.
For some reason this logic is set aside when the wage earners are public employees and, especially, public officials. These people buy groceries, appliances and cars like everyone else. They, too, go to restaurants and spend money at water parks in the Dells.
So forget for a moment that higher pay is a generally accepted means of attracting better, more qualified people to jobs. Or that it would benefit us to have better applicants vying for positions as judges and legislators. And set aside the quaint notion that we would like elected officials to tell us the truth and talk straight.
Let's just put it like this: In saying that a proper response to the world's financial crisis is to cut pay and further depress the already depressed economy, Wisconsin's judges, justices and legislators are setting a bad example.