I have to hand it to these people. Every time I get gloomy about the state of the state, they do something so ridiculous that it cracks me up and breaks the mood, at least for a minute.
First, it was the lieutenant governor saying we need to borrow billions -- to get us out of a hole caused by too much spending. Who is advising these people, Henny Youngman? Take my money. Please!
Albany, as usual, is in a lot of trouble. There is a $9 billion budget hole. It is no secret why we have a problem. The governor and state legislators, no matter who they are, always spend too much and cut too little. It is like what would happen if you handed your teenager the household checkbook. You know it will come to no good.
Which brings me to the latest knee-slapper. A few state legislators, including our own Sam Hoyt, said the state's teachers should reject upcoming raises.
Just to be clear, I have no problem with the message. Times are hard, and in the real world of 10 percent unemployment, the tough medicine of layoffs, wage freezes and pay cuts is as ordinary as eggs for breakfast. There is no reason why folks who are paid with tax dollars should not be asked to share in the pain. I am on board. (Disclosure: My wife is a wage-frozen Buffalo teacher.)
The problem with the wage-freeze idea is not the message. It is the messenger. State legislators asking teachers to cut back is like Madonna telling Lady Gaga to tone it down. It is like Elton John blasting Johnny Weir for being too swishy. It is like Marshawn Lynch suggesting that Ben Roethlisberger clean up his act.
These are the same state legislators who, over the last decade, OK'd jacking up statewide school spending by 72 percent. Most of that money goes for salaries and benefits for -- you guessed it -- teachers and administrators.
For years Albany has run a full-service, all-you-can-eat buffet, ladling out the prime rib and gravy and sticking taxpayers with the bill. Now some of these same people turn around and tell the folks filling their plates to go on a diet. The way I see it, it is not the folks with the plates -- be they teachers, cops, firefighters or other public workers -- who are the larger problem. It is the legislators who keep stocking the buffet table.
Enviable salaries, benefits and pensions for public workers is just a symptom. The disease is a political culture in Albany that stuffs the goody bag.
Aside from that, if legislators want the moral authority to tell teachers to cut back, they first need to look in the mirror. The legislators' call for teacher thrift would, to my mind, carry more weight if it came with a side order of self-inflicted pain.
I have yet to hear any legislator suggest cuts to their $79,500 annual pay -- frequently boosted beyond that by light-lifting committee work. I have yet to hear legislators call for an end to their shared, $170 million, campaign-and-pork fund known as member items. Staff cuts? You must be hallucinating.
One of the largest pockets of waste in Albany is the Legislature itself. It costs us, on average, more than $1 million for the care and feeding of each of 212 state legislators -- and this, in a state notorious for three-men-in-a-room rule.
When the governor and the majority leader of each house largely decide what does and does not fly, it raises the question: What do the other 210 legislators do -- and why do we need all of them? I think it is time for the downsizing movement to detour to Albany.
Do not get me wrong. In the face of a $9 billion budget hole, state workers -- teachers or otherwise -- should think about a pay freeze. But when it comes to asking folks to share the pain, our legislators need to lead by example.