Members of Zurich’s cantonal government have come under attack from Swiss taxpayers, who say they are overpaid.
The Swiss Taxpayers Association has launched a campaign calling for their annual salary to be cut from SFr340,000 ($266,000) to SFr280,000.
The association, which has links to the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, says this would bring canton Zurich into line with other Swiss cantons, none of which pays its local government members more than SFr300,000 per annum.
The initiative comes at a time of nationwide cost-cutting, with federal, cantonal and city authorities all having to tighten their belts and reduce public spending.
The association said in a statement that local politicians should lead by example in the current economic climate and accept a smaller pay packet.
But analysts have questioned the motive behind the initiative, saying it smacks of populism and could simply be a publicity gimmick for the People’s Party.
“The current salaries of SFr340,000 per year are too high,” said Alfred Heer, president of the Swiss Taxpayers Association.
“Members of the Zurich cantonal government earn more than their counterparts in the other cantons.”
According to Heer, they are even paid more than government ministers in neighbouring France and Germany.
“When we talk to people we sense they are opposed to high salaries,” he told swissinfo. “It is our duty to do something about that.”
Oscar Mazzoleni, a political analyst from Ticino, said the association was capitalising on the “latent resentment of some Swiss towards the political and business elites“.
“Politicians often seem incapable of dealing with problems, so people ask ’why should we pay them so much’," Mazzoleni told swissinfo.
But Nicolas Schmitt, from the institute of federalism in Fribourg, said salary levels varied from canton to canton, and usually had a basis in law.
“To work out [politicians’] level of remuneration, the cantons take the salary of the most senior civil servants and add on a certain percentage. These salaries are public and taxable.”
Schmitt added that their earnings were not on a par with those of top managers in private business.
But Heer rejected this argument, saying that private business was independent of the state, and the salaries paid to company bosses did not come out of the public purse.
He said that if the initiative was successful Zurich cantonal government could reduce its annual salary bill by SFr500,000.
The Swiss Taxpayers Association has had success with similar initiatives in the past, forcing the city councils in Bern and Zurich to reduce their executives’ salaries.
The association needs to garner 10,000 signatures within a six-month period to be able to present its initiative to the local electorate. Vote collection begins on August 24.
Members of local government in German-speaking Switzerland earn more than their counterparts in the French-speaking region.
The differences can be explained by canton size and population.
A local government member earns SFr135,000 ($106,000) in Appenzell Inner Rhodes and SFr340,000 in Zurich, with the average being SFr232,000.