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Mayor’s Message: A discussion on Congress

A message from Mayor Jon Shevelew

A few weeks ago I wrote about an Internet letter that was being passed around. It turned out that a great deal of that information was suspect, therefore after some research I would like to discuss the real costs to the American taxpayer to operate the Congress.

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Let me start by saying that I think that the performance of Congress has been criminal. Their inability to function as a working branch of government has played a major role in our current state of affairs. I do believe that there needs to be a penalty system in place that holds them accountable for non-performance and it needs to be automatic. If they don’t pass a budget, if the deficit goes above a certain percentage of the GDP, etc., all sitting members should be banned from running for re-election. And by the way, we have survived with Presidential term limits and it’s time we had congressional term limits also.

So what does it really cost to run Congress? How about $5.42 billion a year? You see the real cost is not just congressional salaries. Knowing that the public looks at their salaries, their real compensation gets buried in expense allowances. The average allowance for House members this year is $1.44 million. They can hire up to 18 employees with a salary limit of $168,000. In the Senate, the average allocation is $3.2 million. Of course we also have some other salaries that should raise an eyebrow. The Chaplain makes $155,000 a year and the Sargent at Arms/Doorkeeper makes $172,000.

How does that really break down in terms of productivity? Well with salaries and operating expenses, each session of the House (assuming they actually work the 128 days there are supposed to be in session) costs us $654,534. So in a typical session where three bills are considered, each bill costs us $218,178. What is wrong with this picture, folks?

Given the current deficit crises we all would assume that they are working hard to keep their own costs under control. We would be wrong. Congressional costs are up 89 percent in the last 10 years. Member salaries are up 24 percent. Expense allowances for Senate leaders are up 99 percent and House leaders are up 82 percent. Costs for the Capital Police are up 237 percent.

So that should correct any errors from my previous article. Still pretty outrageous. The easiest way to fix this situation is to arm yourself with knowledge and hold these folks accountable for their actions. They only get away with this stuff because they know that nobody is watching and that the public has a short memory. They double-talk their way out of bad decisions and we keep falling for it. This doesn’t just mean your federal representatives. Look up the voting records of your state and local representatives also. Are they actively introducing new ideas or are they just chucking up votes along party lines? We need to challenge the status quo.

I have served as either Mayor or Deputy Mayor for almost eight years now. During that time, I have learned that the best ideas have come from residents. The real job of being on the township committee is to keep an open dialogue with the community so that there is a constant influx of fresh ideas. There have been a number of times where I found myself taking a position that I didn’t find comfortable but I knew that the majority of our residents supported. Ultimately, that is the true test of someone who elects to serve the public. If enough people make their voices heard, your elected officials will start to listen. If the silence is deafening, then they will go where they want and you may not like the results.

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