Alabama’s Republicans have worked tirelessly to prevent their citizens from making a living wage – but as usual, those rules don’t apply to themselves. Governor Robert Bentley recently banned his state’s cities from increasing the minimum wage – but just gave four of his cabinet members a colossal $73,405 raise. That’s a staggering 80% raise from their previous $91,000 a year salaries. Alabama’s 1.8 million workers make an average of $39,180, the 37th lowest in the nation.
The Alabama Political Reporter announced that “Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Administrator Mac Gipson, Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Jim Byard, Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee and Insurance Commissioner Jim Ridling each received massive raises of $73,405 per year. Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar received a $64,008 raise.”
The hypocrisy is astounding. The very same Republican legislator who proposed the law which allowed the governor to raise cabinet salaries, Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), just proposed a different bill that would deny food stamps and temporary financial assistance to families who own a car. He also voted for the bill (HB 174) that prevented the city of Birmingham from raising their minimum wage from $8.50 to $10.10.
To add insult to injury, the state is barely able to make ends meet as it is. State board of education candidate Jackie Zeigler resoundingly condemned the raises, citing all the cuts to public services that the state has made to try to stem the bleeding from their colossal budget deficit:
The Bentley administration says the state is broke. They have denied pay increases for teachers, State employees and retirees. They closed five State parks and cut back others. They closed 31 drivers license offices. They gutted the State Auditor’s budget. They took 100 State troopers off the road. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, they were giving themselves huge pay raises. Cutting the normal people but adding to their own pay. This needs to stop.
It would appear that Alabama Republicans are running their states like a Vladimir Putin-esque plutocracy, handsomely rewarding themselves while draining the state dry of funds and excusing their appalling behavior with vague appeals to widely debunked trickle-down economic policies. State Democrats are understandably horrified by what’s transpired in their state. “You believe in states’ rights, but you don’t believe in cities’ rights,” mourned Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery) when the bill blocking minimum wage increases came through.
“Alabama is a poor state. But I say we are poor by choice, because of bills like this that keep people poor,” said State Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham), giving voice to a depressing truth that applies to red states throughout the country. Alabama is the 47th poorest state in our union, and Republicans are working around the clock to keep it that way – but clearly, they feel that they themselves deserve a bigger slice of the pie. It is truly a mystery why the citizens of these states keep electing Republicans when their legislators treat them with such callous disdain.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.