Updated February 22 at 7:59am

Big-pay protesting misses the point for needed reform

Guest Column: Justin Katz
Contempt is a surprising response to receive when expressing concerns about the doubling of the six-figure salaries of public sector executives during a proclaimed hiring freeze amid a recession, with the state government facing annual structural deficits of hundreds of millions of dollars. But in certain circles (mine, for one), some folks consider it obvious that the R.I. Economic Development Corporation was justified in offering a contract worth three-quarters of a million dollars over three years – plus benefits, relocation reimbursements and a car – to attract Ioanna Morfessis as executive director.

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OPINION

Big-pay protesting misses the point for needed reform

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Contempt is a surprising response to receive when expressing concerns about the doubling of the six-figure salaries of public sector executives during a proclaimed hiring freeze amid a recession, with the state government facing annual structural deficits of hundreds of millions of dollars. But in certain circles (mine, for one), some folks consider it obvious that the R.I. Economic Development Corporation was justified in offering a contract worth three-quarters of a million dollars over three years – plus benefits, relocation reimbursements and a car – to attract Ioanna Morfessis as executive director.

Any capitalist and economic conservative will cede the point that an organization must be willing to spend sufficient money to attract the candidates with the greatest likelihood of being successful in their jobs. Critical positions with extensive responsibility on which organizational objectives will hinge demand substantial expense. However, dramatic increases in the cost of a position ought to indicate that a specific shortcoming has been identified that must be remedied. Otherwise, bringing on star-powered personnel merely indicates a form of vanity in the employer and a desire to present eye-popping pay as evidence of doing something.

Right-leaning reformers in Rhode Island should not allow an aversion to government spending to undermine well-considered investments, but a top-down strategy is emerging that reacts to symptoms in such a way as to hinder efforts to address the underlying cause. Thus far, the strategy has three components:

• Consolidate services across the state for both economies of scale and stronger leverage against special interests.

• Tinker with tax code gimmicks to give the impression that the state doesn’t subtract as much from the economy as it does and to target incentives for maximal benefit.

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