OUR VIEW: Johnson deserves legislative criticism for office raisesIt appears that Jarrod Johnson is loose with the public’s money, and that’s frustrating to members of the state Legislature. It’s also frustrating to us.
By: Editorial board, The Daily Republic
It appears that Jarrod Johnson is loose with the public’s money, and that’s frustrating to members of the state Legislature.
It’s also frustrating to us, after reading the account of how Johnson doled out raises to members of his staff after vowing to legislative leaders that he wouldn’t.
Johnson was criticized Friday by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations, which oversees the budget for the Office of School and Public Lands. Johnson is the elected commissioner of that office.
According to a report in the Saturday edition of The Daily Republic, Johnson has now twice violated the Legislature’s no-raise policy, which has been in effect throughout state government for three years. The policy is in place to help counteract unprecedented deficits within the state budget.
After Johnson gave raises last year, Sen. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, said Johnson promised to not do it again this year. Johnson didn’t dispute Tidemann’s account.
We can understand the frustration felt by members of the committee after Johnson gave 3 percent raises to three employees and a 20 percent raise to a fourth. His office employs six overall.
Johnson defended the raises by telling the lawmakers that his office still achieved the 10 percent cut in his office’s general-fund spending. The members of the committee, however, were not sympathetic.
“I am more than offended,” said Tidemann.
Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, said she was “appalled.”
Johnson is paid $78,363 annually to oversee the little-known Office of School and Public Lands, but he apparently has a lot to learn about business. Handing out raises to employees in times of economic difficulty is a touchy practice, and especially after being told not to by those who oversee the budget.
We wish everyone could have a raise every year, but South Dakota’s fiscal reality makes that impossible. Raises are tough to come by in the private sector, and they should be equally difficult to achieve in the economic environment that today dominates state government. Elected leaders are there to lead and make wise decisions with taxpayer money. Those who do not do that must re-evaluate why they ran for office in the first place.
Some state government employees have taken pay cuts. Gov. Dennis Daugaard cut his own pay by some $15,000 annually at the same time he was making hard decisions about the salaries of other state workers. Now that’s leadership.
Johnson shouldn’t have granted those raises — not only because he should be smart enough to be frugal with taxpayers’ money in tough economic times but also because it’s unfair to employees of other government departments whose leaders are abiding by the Legislature’s no-raise rule.
But mostly, Johnson shouldn’t have granted those raises because he told lawmakers last year that he wouldn’t give raises. He should have kept that promise.