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Other Views: Governor’s bonuses too generous, public reaction confirms

GRAND FORKS -- They are loyal and faithful public servants, these members of Gov. Jack Dalrymple's staff. We have full confidence in their abilities, their value -- and the fact that in a better world, they'd be earning a lot more money.

GRAND FORKS - They are loyal and faithful public servants, these members of Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s staff. We have full confidence in their abilities, their value - and the fact that in a better world, they’d be earning a lot more money.
But face it: In a better world, we’d all be earning a lot more money. The difference is that the governor’s staffers actually have encountered their windfall: Nearly $100,000 in bonuses paid to the governor’s chief of staff, communications director, two senior policy advisers and his scheduler/assistant.
Is it just a coincidence that these bonuses - which range from $31,960 to $10,822 for the biennium - were given by a governor who’s not running for re-election? And who happens to be entering the last year of his term?
And that all of the bonuses were paid out of government funds - in other words, out of taxpayer money?
We don’t think those are coincidences. And judging by the front-page coverage the bonuses have received, and the criticism they’ve drawn from many North Dakota Republicans and Democrats alike, we’re not alone.
The governor should have anticipated that reaction, and used it to moderate his impulse to be so generous to his longtime staff.
After all, in the absence of the bottom-line need to make a profit - the gravitational pull that keeps private-sector spending under control and companies from flying out of financial orbit - the public sector has to rely on pressure from voters.
For politicians, it’s the knowledge that they’ll be up for reelection that keeps them on their guard and careful to be prudent in their decisionmaking, especially with public dollars.
It’s not a perfect system, in part because there comes a time for most elected officials when they know they won’t be running again. And when that time comes, the temptation to ignore the pressure of the public’s displeasure can be strong.
Think of President Bill Clinton, pardoning 140 convicts, fugitives and suspects on his last day in office.
Think of President Barack Obama, signing multiple executive orders that defy the expressed will of the people, as voiced through bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress.
And think of a governor doling out thousands of dollars - in a few cases, tens of thousands of dollars - in bonuses to his closest advisors and other staff.
That’s not the action of a chief executive who’s mindful of the voters’ gravitational pull, in our view. It’s the action of a CEO who can politically afford to be freer with the purse strings than he used to be.
Dalrymple’s action isn’t close to a mortal sin, assuming his motive is as we’ve described above. Most governors and presidents - maybe even all of them - decide differently on some issues when they’re no longer facing the pressure of reelection.
Still, Dalrymple should have moderated his impulse toward generosity in this case. Because there’s one aspect of governance that elected officials always should keep in mind, whether they’re running for reelection or not: It’s not their money.
It’s the taxpayers’ money. And those taxpayers rightly shake their heads with resentment and dismay when they sense that their money has been too freely spent.
The Grand Forks Herald’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.

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