08/01/05 — Corruption: Some state employees given special pay raises

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Corruption: Some state employees given special pay raises

Once again, North Carolina’s legislative leaders have proven the wisdom of Lord Acton, the British historian of a century ago, who declared:

“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

It was learned last week that the three top legislators, who have become notorious for directing taxpayers’ money toward their own pet projects, pulled another fast one last year.

They secretly arranged pay raises for select state employees — the ones that work for them in the Legislature — that were twice as big as the raises of other state workers.

The bulk of North Carolina’s state employees were told that the raises they got — 2.5 percent or $1,000, whichever was more — was all the state could afford. As it turned out, the state could afford more for the workers who were closest to the ruling troika, House Speaker Jim Black, then co-speaker Richard Morgan and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight.

They got together after the 2004 legislative session, with the other lawmakers gone home, and arranged for operational money to be used to give the extra pay for the 300 or so permanent and 285 temporary legislative workers.

When exposed last week, the three said they had been worried about losing good employees and that the legislative staff worked especially hard when the Legislature was in session.

But other state workers are just as indispensable. And if Basnight, Black and Morgan would come to Wayne County, they would find some mighty hardworking and dedicated workers here, too — at Cherry Hospital and O’Berry Center, for instance.

The special treatment of legislative employees is patently unfair to the others.

But that is just the beginning. It is an offense to all North Carolina taxpayers. It misuses our money; it sullies a system that belongs to us, and it saps our trust in government.

Published in Editorials on August 1, 2005 11:10 AM