Chris Uggen's Blog: in a long white cadillac

Friday, February 10, 2006

in a long white cadillac

deposed minneapolis school superintendent thandiwe peebles is leaving the district and its $700 monthly car allowance. now the city is stuck with a four-year lease on a long white cadillac srx at $534 per month.

public school officials just love luxury automobiles. several years ago, i drove to a meeting with madison metro school district officials. when i asked my boss where to turn, she just said "follow the mercedes, chris. these are school people." peebles' allowance was not at all unusual -- the st. paul superintendent gets $750 monthly for her jaguar.

i don't see anything wrong with (a) providing cars for public employees who must drive a lot on their jobs; or, (b) public employees driving luxury cars. unfortunately, when luxury cars are provided at taxpayer expense, the administrators start to look like "limousine liberals," gassing up at the public trough. i could almost hear public school teachers groaning as i read the story --it is tough enough to pass school referenda these days. anti-spending groups such as the taxpayer's league of minnesota pounce on any hint of frivolous spending or luxury, with regular features such as "taj mahal of the month" and "waste watcher."

when parents must supply the kleenex and paper towels for cash-strapped schools, any hint of ostentation sends a bad message. if we need to put together a nice package to attract a qualified candidate, i'd much rather pay her an additional $9,000 in salary than supply it in the form of a $750 per month luxury car. think about the reference point: the annual per capita income in minneapolis' near north neighborhood is only $9,600 (and $22,700 for the city overall). superintendents' contracts are typically loaded with perks and lucrative buyouts, but i'm hoping that the contract for dr. peebles' successor is a bit more politically palatable and (in my view) socially responsible. good sign: her interim replacement drives a '96 camry.

the strib also notes that my current boss drives a 2003 gmc envoy that he paid for himself. i fully support paying our president his $350,000 salary, which is actually below-market for a major university president. but i'd protest a $750 monthly car allowance or state-supplied goldy-gopher escalade. the same goes for department chairs, i suppose. i'll receive some summer salary this year, but my colleagues would certainly frown on allocating department funds for extravagant transportation (if not, i'd like one of these and one of these). such extravagance in a time of rising tuition just seems to rub the public's nose in it.

minneapolis boss r.t. rybak, the nation's fittest mayor, uses his $500 monthly allowance to lease a cheap toyota prius. it probably has very low miles, since he likes to ski to work. even governor t-paw, my marathon nemesis, drives a basic state-owned chevy suburban. it shares the same frame as the escalade, no doubt, but it sends an altogether different message.


At 11:28 AM, Anonymous minor threat said...

No comment on driving an escalade (though it does seem a bit unseemly)... but I was struck by the similarity in our taste in cars.

As we discussed before I went off to my first year of graduate school, my biggest concern about the academic life is potentially never being able to afford an old-school green jag (or, having to forgo medical care, a domicile, clothes for junior, etc. in order to get one). This concern is slightly less bothersome since Ford took over (it just seems wrong!).

My backup (though still potentially out of reach) is the 1967 Camaro, which I've loved since John Cusack in Better Off Dead ("I believe you bought this car because your girlfriend, Beth, said it was 'tasty'?").

At 6:12 PM, Anonymous chris said...

hey threat, from the looks of the detroit auto show , you might have your choice of a '69 camaro or a '70 challenter in production during your first year as an assistant professor. of course, i don't know whether these will be real ponchos or sears' ponchos. the jag e-type is not to be messed with, so i hope they never resurrect the name or look.


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