I recently wrote about Utah legislators cutting their own pay by 10%. Congress has gotten the message that something like that would be a politically savvy move, given the current state of the economy (see SL-Trib article). Congress is opting to forego its automatic annual pay raise next year. (That won’t stop them from otherwise spending taxpayer money like drunken sailors.)

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) has long been an opponent of Congress’ automatic pay increase. Every term since coming to office he has introduced legislation that would do away with this “secretive pay system” in favor of an actual public person-by-person vote on the matter. This, he says, would introduce true accountability, because constituents would know how each federal legislator voted on the matter. And every term (regardless of which party has been in control), Matheson’s proposal has been panned.

The fact that Congress isn’t going to take the automatic increase for one year doesn’t mean that Matheson’s perennial proposal has gained any ground among his congressional colleagues. Most of them see the current measure as a way to bolster their political standing with voters. Few of them are interested in actually being accountable for setting their own pay.

Still, Matheson persists. Each time he receives an automatic pay raise, he donates the increase to charity that year. Even this is somewhat of a political stunt, because he keeps that amount the following year, meaning that he is perpetually one year behind his colleagues on the congressional pay scale. But each year he does put his money where his mouth is. This year, it cost him $4,700.

It would be wonderful if Matheson’s vote-for-each-raise proposal were to actually get some serious consideration. Perhaps it would be a good idea to make a candidate’s support of this concept one of the criteria we use when deciding whether she/he deserves our support or not.
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