Where angels fear to tread, as the old saw goes. And it remains to be seen whether Councilmember Tom Gallagher has acted foolishly or angelically in proposing an across-the-board 10 percent pay cut for city employees.
Such a cut, Gallagher says, would save $16 million, and go a long ways toward overcoming the city’s projected $24 million budget deficit.
For at least thirty years, councilmembers have held one thing sacrosanct: the welfare of city employees. City workers are sure to vote in the often-ignored April council elections, and probably constitute the single largest voting bloc-especially if you include employees of Colorado Springs Utilities and Memorial Health Systems.
City employees have traditionally been compensated according to complex metrics which rely heavily upon compensation levels in comparable municipalities. Clearly, the use of such formulae may result in steadily increasing compensation for the employees of all cities in the measured sample.
To the best of my knowledge, no previous councilmember has ever dared call for an outright pay cut for city employees. That’s the third rail of municipal politics – touch it and you die.
So let’s give the oft-maligned and sometimes eccentric Gallagher credit – he’s about to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel of his own devising. It helps that he’s term-limited, and has no reason to coddle favor with voters in some future municipal election, but it’s still a gutsy move.
But does it make sense? A 10 percent pay cut would be devastating for me, and, I suspect, for most of us. But given the choice between such a pay cut and no job, I’d take the pay cut and hope for better times.
My guess is that Gallagher’s proposal will fly in some form. With Sean Paige aboard to stiffen the backs of the now four-member conservative bloc (Gallagher, Darryl Glenn, Bernie Herpin and Paige), it’s likely that council will follow the lead of the county commissioners and do what they have to do. In the best of worlds, that would mean some combination of pay cuts, furloughs, and moderate service reductions, leaving parks, the museum, community centers and swimming pools unscathed.
It’s a tough call-but these are tough times. For most of us, it means working harder, earning less, or coping with layoffs and firings. During the last week, two close friends have lost their private sector jobs through no fault of their own – and I know that they’d be delighted to have a job at the city – even with a 10 percent pay cut. Or maybe even 20…