Our View: State leaders should set example for transparency

Our View

In short: State legislators are using secretive tactics to hide their behavior, and it sets a bad example for future leaders.

It’s no wonder local leaders from Larry Langford to our SGA often face claims of corruption and a lack of transparency. The leaders they look up to always seem to keep the public in the dark.

State legislators have increased their pay by 72 percent since 2006, according to a report in The Gadsden Times. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Legislators, who work part time and only part of the year, need to make a decent amount of money in order to make the office attainable for everyone. The increase is also not too egregious: legislators still make only around $52,000 a year. While the state is suffering from a significant budget crunch, the pay increases are not the biggest drain on the government. The problem is not the amount they make. It’s how they’ve increased it.

Most of the time, legislators have used procedures other than traditional votes to increase their own pay. Major pay increases in 2007 were passed using quick voice votes and an unrecorded vote. An unrecorded vote was also used to override a veto by Gov. Bob Riley.

Thanks to procedures like these, constituents have no idea if their legislators voted to increase their own pay. They just have to take their legislator’s word on whether or not they voted for pay increases.

Legislators voted down a pay increase last year in the shadow of elections. Sometimes, pay increases can be bad enough for public relations to warrant this kind of treatment. Earlier this year, gubernatorial candidate Robert Bentley made a deal of the governor’s pay by vowing to not accept a paycheck unless unemployment goes down. The pay of government officials is clearly a key political tool in winning and losing votes. At other times, though, legislators find that they can be sneaky enough to get away with it.

Secretive tactics like these are not the hallmarks of an open government. They are the tactics of a government run by people who are looking after their own hidden agendas and greedy self-interest first and the interests of the people of Alabama last. Unrecorded votes give every representative the ability to deny their vote on a pay increase. They make the Legislature less accountable to the people by separating the lawmaker from the government even more.

There is an even more significant issue at stake. These actions, when they are seen as acceptable, create a culture of irresponsibility among the state’s leaders. That irresponsibility filters down to the rest of the state’s officials and prospective officials, including people on our own campus.

When our SGA officials became involved in the scandal earlier this year involving a service trip to Pasadena, Calif., they were merely continuing the old Alabama tradition of closed government and slippery lies. Any extensive look into Alabama politics shows that this corruption is nothing new.

All government officials in the state of Alabama, whether they’re in Montgomery or in the Ferguson Center, should work to fight this culture of corruption. It isn’t the right way for the state to work in the best interest of its people, and it sets a bad example for all of our future leaders.

The next generation cannot be counted on to clean everything up unless the current generation makes an effort to curb their corruption.

Managing editor Alan Blinder did not participate in this editorial.