If the world economy is collapsing and dragging New York state's budget down with it, there is nonetheless a bright side to this black hole: We won't have to pay attention to Chief Judge Judith Kaye caterwauling about how little she and her colleagues are paid.
The state will still have to come up with money it can ill afford to defend against the lawsuits brought by Kaye and other judges, who claim they have a constitutional right to pay themselves big raises. It's as if bloggers said the First Amendment gives them the right to decree their own public subsidy. Judges are now paid now about three times the salary of the average New Yorker.
Nor is the judges' conduct unusual by Albany standards. Top legislative staffers make sure to pad their pay and pensions on the way out to more lucrative careers as lobbyists. Jealous legislators, aching for raises of their own, are offended at the very suggestion that they should buy their own lunches. The bipartisan outrage against David Grandeau, who was forced out as head of the lobbying commission by a fraudulent "reform" measure last year, can be explained by his making it more difficult for lobbyists to subsidize the lifestyle of politicians.
When Kaye retired last week, editorial writers phoned in the usual banal blather about her supposedly stellar record, echoing the bromides attorneys lavish on each other at annual Law Days and other exercises in self-congratulation. Goo-goos like the League of Women Voters, whose legislative director, Barbara Bartoletti, works for no salary, nevertheless have lined up to support the establishment position that the judges must get theirs.
In a column this week, Thomas Sowell said that no matter how much compensation auto executives received, it had very little impact on the cost of a car or Detroit's troubles. Maybe so, although it does seem that Wall Street and corporate leaders were looking out for No. 1 at the expense of their companies and other responsibilities. In New York, the public-sector response to private-sector greed has often been to subsidize it and demand a piece of the action, to the extent that the costs to the actual public become insupportable.
Good people get sucked into the systemic corruption, through no fault of their own. After 9/11, many New York City firefighters worked so much overtime that they were more or less forced into retirement, because their pensions were based on those earnings, and they would never work so much overtime again. The public-sector unions had demanded a system of pension-padding, and the politicians gave them this and much more, falsely telling taxpayers that they would not be on the hook. The unions bought and now own the entire state Legislature.
Meanwhile, the AP's Heidi Vogt reported this week, starvation threatens Afghanistan, where the United States has been fighting a war for the past seven years. "The crisis is nationwide," she reported. Aid groups say the food shortage is the worst since the Soviets left in 1989, and in some places lawmakers are worried that "desperation will make people easy recruits for the Taliban."
A Siena Research Institute poll in May showed strong public opposition to judicial raises. Does anyone think the public would be more supportive now? Does anyone think the state or country or world can afford the cynical conventional wisdom of Planet Albany? No matter what the courts do with the lawsuits filed by Kaye and the other judges, it is now impossible to take their arguments seriously, and high time to demand public service from public servants.