Six weeks ago all we wanted was for the election to be over. Well, we got what we asked for: The election is over and we have a billionaire as President-elect. The people who voted for him seem to believe that a man born with a silver (or golden) spoon in his mouth understands how they live.
I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that he has no idea, nor wants to have one, of how the working class lives.
He’s not alone. More than half of the members of Congress are millionaires, many of them several times over.
The Center for Responsive Politics lists Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch as being worth somewhere between $2 million and $7 million, and that doesn’t even put him in the top 25. Base pay for a senator is $174,000, and $193,000 for majority and minority leaders (plus generous amounts for various allowances), which are sums not to be sneezed at. These are the same people who raise their own salaries on a regular basis, but support only a 0.3 percent increase in Social Security for 2017 (on top of no Cost of Living Allowance for 2016), and allow insurance companies to raise their premiums by 70 percent.
For people at my level, that translates to a princely $2 per month rise in Social Security, and $48 per month extra in medical premiums. Republicans Lindsay Graham, Mike Lee and Rand Paul want to cut $6.2 trillion from the Social Security fund.
I can’t complain because many people here are worse off than I am. There’s not much we can do about national politics in Moab. We can’t even influence state-wide politics. We do, however, have the leeway to set our own rules in our own town as long as we don’t abrogate any state rules or regulations.
In the mid-1980s, we had a couple of city council representatives who lived right at the poverty level for Grand County. In those days, city council persons were paid $125 per month, a sum that ensured politicians had a sincere desire to serve; today, they are paid $700 per month, and they earn every penny of it, but it must be admitted that an extra $8,400 per year is also not to be sneezed at. Most of our council people are financially comfortable. And they spend money as if we taxpayers are rolling in the stuff. The city is giving raises to its employees without any plan to fund such raises.
We give much talk to bringing Moab into compliance with comparable cities in Utah and Colorado, but many cities in our position – with a plethora of second homes, a tourism tax base, a workforce that is grossly underpaid, grand ideas of affordable housing with very little action to make that happen, a crumbling infrastructure as defined by our wastewater plant, and property taxes that are forcing some of the elderly out of their homes – have a much deeper pool from which to draw.
This is not to say that council people set out to waste our money, it’s the Donald Trump Syndrome on a local level. When the people who govern us think that everyone is as well off as they are, there is a disconnect between our realities.
Government by the monied class is a sure way to leave behind a good many of the citizens who live under their radar: the unemployed, the underemployed, the disabled, the ill, the disadvantaged, the people whose education didn’t prepare them for a digital world. When we sacrifice these people, we are not living up to our American potential. We lose the different points of view that energize our creativity, whether on a national or local scale.
So maybe we need to change how we elect our city council. Instead of having candidates elected by district, we should have them elected by income level. One representative would have to make less than $20,000, the next $30,000, then $40,000, and $50,000, culminating in a final salary of $80,000 at the city level. That would ensure that most of our representatives would know how the other half lives, and just how much effort it takes to survive at each level. And when they consider spending tax monies, they have a sound basis for considering just how important each tax dollar is in prioritizing expenses.
If the 2016 election has shown us anything, it has pointed out that there is a vast distance between the 1 Percent and the rest of us, and the rest of us are becoming powerless to direct our own lives on a national level. All we can do is try to make our town reflect all its citizens, to use the knowledge and energy of each income level to provide answers to our problems and challenges.
Michaelene Pendleton spent most of her working life as a psychologist and has written fiction and nonfiction for more years than she likes to count. Bouncing between Alaska and Moab, she seems to have settled here, for better or worse.