Boy, nothing chills an otherwise rollicking government meeting like the phrase "self-imposed pay cut."
But in a world of shrinking budgets, threatened furloughs and all-out layoffs, Hillsborough's newly elected Commissioner Kevin Beckner recently suggested he and his fellow board members take a 10 percent pay hit in a show of support for all county employees feeling the pinch.
The message: Even the muckety-mucks will make something of a sacrifice.
By the way, this was quite the about-face from the commissioner Beckner replaced, the always-memorable Brian Blair, who at the very suggestion of a pay freeze two years ago indicated such an act would take food from the very mouths of his children, and I swear you could hear Lee Greenwood playing in the background. Maybe that kind of classic Blairism was on voters' minds when they opted for Beckner in November.
Fast-forward to the grim realities of today, and commissioners this week voted not for a specific percentage of self-sacrifice, but instead to do to themselves what is ultimately done to county employees. It's not all Beckner hoped for, but it's something: Workers take unpaid days off, commissioners take unpaid days off. Workers' pay is frozen, ditto the commissioners'.
Even that much is laudable in a time when some elected officials are willing to risk public scorn by legally gaming the retirement system and double-dipping to feather their nests — but hey, that's a subject for another day.
So here's the question: Do self-imposed pay cuts for politicians, even when the savings will not rescue anyone's budget by a long shot, still matter?
In these days of fat cats getting fat bonuses, government bailouts and bad-to-worse budget news, I say: You bet it does.
In other parts of the country, politicians have gone the artful, "I'll take a pay cut if we end up imposing one on the rest of the employees" route, a sacrifice at least in word and for now.
Hey, even the commissioner of the NFL is taking a salary freeze for 2009. (Okay, when you're making that many zeros already, it's a tad easier to take, but still.)
You also have to like forthright gestures like that of Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda, who two years ago voluntarily gave up thousands in travel money, funds he hasn't touched since.
Here's one of my favorite examples of small but powerful symbolism: When the new mayor of Davie was sworn in last month, she said forget the usual catered trays for the official fete and opted for potluck via her supporters — a gesture I'm guessing will stick with voters, particularly if it sets the tone for her term.
Interesting note: State Sen. Ronda Storms sponsored a bill calling for a 5 percent pay cut for Florida elected and appointed officials who make $65,000 or more. (Well, yes, since you ask, Storms herself makes way below that as a legislator.)
Nope, elected officials are under no obligation whatsoever to take less than the pay that was part of the deal when they took the job. Same for the benefits that were in place.
But how the guys at the top act when times are tough and morale scraping rock bottom sticks with employees — not to mention voters in general.
A drop in the bucket is still a drop. And a show of solidarity means something when you're in the trenches and your bosses are, in some small way, there, too.