Thursday, July 22, 2010
Plush Perks for Politicians and Public Employees
These are tough times for local government, because they are tough times for the economy. People without jobs cannot buy products and services, and the over-reliance on sales tax revenues to fund local government is generating less revenue than in past years. Much has been done to reduce expenses and attempt to maintain services, and most elected officials and public employees have been willing to continue with frozen salaries and reduced overtime pay. However, a few bad apples continue to draw deep from the public purse for their own convenience and act as if they are entitled to special treatment from the lowly taxpayers.
Some of our state's highrollers have been pinched lately when it became known that they were driving high-dollar vehicles for personal business at taxpayer expense. Some have since given up their state car, and others have started paying income tax on the benefit. House Speaker Robbie Wills told everyone to kiss his ass, that he was keeping the Tahoe and not paying back anything. In addition to state elected officials, more than 400 state employees have been paying taxes on the use of a state-owned vehicle to commute to and from work, get groceries, take the kids to school, and hundreds of other personal uses at taxpayer expense. How many state employees have personal vehicles provided by the taxpayers is unknown, but a lawsuit filed last week seeks to put an end to this practice.
The local media have shown little interest and devoted almost no effort to check on how many county and city officials and employees are getting these personal vehicles at taxpayer expense. It was reported last year that Washington County Judge Marilyn Edwards and her chief flunky, Dan Short, got brand new Dodge Durango SUVs as a $50,000 gift from county taxpayers. How many other county officials and county employees have personal use of county vehicles, and do they pay income tax on this freebie?
Neither Mayor Jordan nor Don Marr get city vehicles for personal use. One of Jordan's first moves was to decline the $500 a month car allowance that the former mayor got from taxpayers. None of the other elected officials -- City Clerk, City Attorney, or City Council -- have cars provided by the taxpayers. The question that remains unanswered is how many passenger vehicles does the city own, and how many of these are assigned to employees for their personal use? Let's have some answers. Let's have some open government disclosure about who the taxpayers are buying cars for and which employees are paying income tax on this luxury service in hard times. Do you think Ray Boudreaux has a car at the executive jetport that he used for courting the Councilwoman? Parking these little perks would be better than furloughing employees so the big shots can continue to cruise in style.
What about the other cities and counties? What do Steve Womack and David Bisbee drive? What about school district employees? What about the University of Arkansas and its holding company, the Athletic Department? How many administrators are getting the free ride whiles faculty and staff salaries are frozen for two years? Is David Gearhart's rig as nice as Jeff Long's or whoever is supposed to be the basketball coach? It's not like they couldn't afford to buy a car with those inflated salaries.
I don't get paid enough to ask these questions, which would require the effort of making a few phone calls and the patience to endure the everlasting run-around, and I have given up waiting on the Northwest Arkansas Times to act like a real newspaper. The Fayetteville Flyer and Ozarks Unbound have a clear field if they want it.