Hillary Clinton's opposition, during last night's debate, to raising the Social Security payroll tax cap was taken to task by Iowa Independent's Doug Burns as being a pander to people in the wrong state. Clinton said of the proposed tax increase on those who earn over $97,500:
It is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors. I'm not talking -- and, you know, it's different parts of the country. So you have to look at this across the board and the numbers are staggering.
To which Burns replied:
Is $97,000 a lot of money? In most of Obama's Illinois and just about all of Iowa, the answer to that is "yes," which makes Obama's position on the question of whether to raise or lift the cap on Social Security taxes more reasonable to Hawkeye State voters than the New York shape-shifting of Clinton.
As it stands, the first $97,500 of a person's annual income is subject to the Social Security tax. Obama supports lifting that to shore up the future of the system while Clinton went with the nostalgia card, suggesting that she could resurrect the macroeconomic picture that prevailed under her husband and cause the Social Security problem to disappear without hard choices. She suggested that popping the cap would hurt middle-class Americans and argued that in some parts of the nation (namely high-priced New York City which she represents) $97,500 isn't a lot of money. It would be interesting to hear her make that argument in Audubon County, Iowa, where the average home is worth half that much: $49,000.
As it turns out, rookie firefighters in New York City aren't getting paid like the top 6 percent of earners. They start at close to a very Iowa-like $36,878, according to a March New York Times story on their battle to raise their salaries. But by five years on the job, their base salaries, with no overtime, are already up to $68,475. Outside the city, firefighter salaries are higher, according to a Manhattan Institute report, which found that, by 2007, "the average salary for police officers and firefighters outside New York City" was "$86,099, according to data from the state retirement system." The same report found that New York county police officers "averaged $121,608 (including overtime)," in 2006-2007. On the other coast, the starting salary for City of Los Angeles firefighters is $46,729, and Los Angeles County fire captains can earn $97,200, without overtime.
School administrators are better compensated. The New York State Education Department offers a long list of well-paid school administrators, from assistant principals in Levittown to the Supervisor Music/Art for Mineola, who is paid more than $100,000. Many school superintendents in New York state, according to this list, are paid upwards of $150,000, and some are even paid more than $200,000.
In short, Burns was right to note that Clinton's response on the Social Security question was not addressed to Iowans. It was addressed to the public sector unions that represent firefighters and teachers in the Feb. 5 states, who have fought for the higher salaries, and also, to the higher-ups in the fields of education and public safety who may be able to influence the political opinions of those in the institutions they command.