Cost of Living / There Oughta Be a Law

The Bank of Israel librarian who starred in previous Wage Reports on public-sector pay has become legend.

The Bank of Israel librarian who starred in previous Wage Reports on public-sector pay has become legend. This dignitary, who cost the bank NIS 61,000 a month, has long since retired. But before he did, he earned about 50% more than the central bank's governor.

Each year, in January or February, when the Finance Ministry wages director releases the annual review of public-sector salaries, the public (at least the members of it who don't work for government) is horrified, disgusted, and angered to learn of the many state officials making high salaries.

High? Very high. Imaginations have been captured, if that's the word, by the pay levels at the top of the Israel Electric Corporation, the healthcare service funds, the Bank of Israel, the ports. Indeed, the numbers beg resentment. But the thing is, by the day after tomorrow, or maybe the day after that, the outrageous pay practices at the taxpayer's expense, will be old news. It will drop off the public's agenda until the next Wages Report causes teeth to grind up and down the land.

Sadly, year in and year out, the people howl and the pundits fulminate and then everybody forgets about the whole thing. It will probably happen again this year.

Plenty of private member bills have been tabled that would cap civil service pay. There was Haim Oron's bill, which even passed its first of three readings in the last Knesset. But the coalition opposed it and the bill became bogged down in the Knesset Finance Committee, where it remains to this day.

The coalition should embrace the bill and rule that the absolute maximum pay in the public sector shall be equivalent to the gross monthly salary of the president of the Supreme Court, which is roughly NIS 60,000. It is hard to believe that candidates for high office in the public sector would reject the job because they'd gross "only" NIS 60,000 a month, especially since government jobs are often a stepping stone to lucrative private-sector positions.

Oron's bill has another component of equal importance: criminalizing anybody who grants or approves pay higher than the maximum. They would, dear reader, go to jail. The threat of criminal sanctions would most probably dissuade even the most generous of government officials to think twice before approving sky-high pay for workers, at our expense.