I wondered why there weren’t more letters in response to what I expected would be an emotionally explosive February 3rd report from newguy Andy Bromage in 7 Days:
State Rep. David Zuckerman (P-Burlington) has a confession to make that might sound to some like political suicide.
He bills taxpayers for his “mileage” to and from the Statehouse – as much as $152 a week – even on days when he gets a ride with fellow lawmakers or lobbyists.
Zuckerman also takes full advantage of the $61 daily meal allowance afforded to legislators when they are in session, but admits he rarely spends that much on food.
“Every day I claim the mileage, and I probably shouldn’t,” says Zuckerman, a ponytailed Progressive who runs an organic vegetable farm in Hinesburg. Beyond that, though, Zuckerman isn’t apologizing for his behavior.
Ouch. It goes on.
Many lawmakers admit it doesn’t cost them $61 a day to fill their bellies, nor $101 a night to crash in Montpelier – a room at the Capital Plaza runs $106, but many lawmakers make more affordable arrangements, such as renting apartments together. Several politicians interviewed by Seven Days admitted they pocketed the difference, though none as righteously as Zuckerman.
Political parties in Burlington have become something almost akin to churches, with Democrats, Progressives and Republicans seemingly incapable of critically examining their own institutions – and certainly their own high priests and priestesses. I fully expected a nuclear explosion of emphatic, pavlovian opining divided rigidly along partisan lines and was shocked when it didn’t turn out that way.
Well, come to find out we just haven’t seen it yet. It sounds like those letters are showing up in tomorrow’s issue – and it seems there will be a lot of them.
Hopefully, there’ll be a little nuance in the discussion since the article makes it clear that the the legislators giving themselves such unofficial raises are not bound to any one party. It’s likely, though, that most letter-writers will not be able to see past David’s mug in the article’s photo and will simply vent one way or the other based on their own partisan affiliation. It’s a shame because there’s an important discussion on ethics to be had in all this. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong.
I’m sympathetic to Zuckerman’s point. As it is, only wealthy, retired, or otherwise “supported” people can really afford to be legislators. The compensation is that bad, and that makes for a deeply screwed-up system. I’ve suggested that, at the very least, it wouldn’t break the bank to at least professionalize the Senate.
But I can’t see how there can be any question that collecting this money under false pretenses is unethical, and casting it as a virtue is disturbing.
It’s effectively placing oneself above the rules (at least in spirit… don’t know about the letter). It says to readers I can unilaterally change those rules as I see fit.
It might be morally different if he was suggesting that some other person has the right to adjust their own job compensation unilaterally, but he’s making that decision for himself. To call that a conflict of interest understates it.
If Rep. Zuckerman hired a laborer for his farm and found out that this worker was routinely taking a dollar or two from Zuckerman’s own wallet to supplement what he saw as an inadequate wage, he would rightfully be pissed off. He would likely be more pissed off if that worker considered it a perfectly fine thing to do and expressed no remorse, as well as every intention of repeating the behavior. (This isn’t quite it, as the action in question isn’t sneaky. It’s not robbing someone when they’re not looking. Perhaps its more akin to passing a bad check.)
The action he defends in this piece is a bit ethically offset by the fact that Zuckerman’s self-directed pay raise is a transgression against an institution rather than a person (at least its offset in my opinion), but its still unethical.
Please don’t do it anymore. You need to be better than this. It ain’t right, and that should be the end of it.
At any rate, I’m gonna be checking out the 7 Days lettercol tomorrow. Should be quite a show.