Monday, July 13, 2009

Taylor Armerding: Time for public employees to get real

Even though I did not write this, I felt I should share this article from my local paper. hat tip Mr Armerding......

It's about time we all go to work for the government.

"Work" is a somewhat fluid term in this case, since it will involve fewer hours, more holidays, longer weekends, more vacation, more sick time, more personal time, more funeral leave and, of course, fewer years on the job than just about any career other than one in professional sports.

Let's just call it "employed" by the government. It'll be tough, but I know we can do it. Because really, this dealing with life in the private sector is so, so unfair.

When times get tough, our wages get frozen or cut, we're forced to take unpaid furlough days, we pay more for fewer health benefits — and that's only if we're lucky enough not to get laid off. Meanwhile, the value of our houses has dropped; and if we had a stock portfolio, there are parentheses around all the bottom-line figures.

All of which means we have less money — in many cases a lot less money. And since we have less, we have to spend less. Fewer clothes. Shorter vacation or no vacation. No more eating out. No remodeling. No private college for the kids. No new car, or even a better used one than the clunker we're driving now. No iToys. Just the basics, if we can even afford those.

How unfair is that? What right does the economy have to go into a recession? What right do our employers have to refuse to pay us money they don't have?

How much better to be in the gilded surroundings of government employment — the only place left where the current economic reality is for other people.

During good times, things are really good here because, after all, government employees should share the benefits of a robust economy. During bad times, things are just a little less good because, well, they're providing such critical services and "the children" will be hurt if they have to take a pay cut.

The new state budget, which took effect July 1, should tell you all you need to know about where you should be "working."

So what if those in the private sector are hurting. Government's answer to that pain? Inflict more.

You have less? Tough. Now is the time for you to pay more, so we won't have less.

Gov. Deval Patrick made a big deal out of "reforms" — the elimination of a few obscenities like MBTA workers qualifying for a retirement pension after just 23 years; state workers getting credit for a full year toward their pension if they work a single day in a year; treating a rep or senator who is tossed out by the voters or just decides not to run again as if he or she was laid off, which are supposed to justify tax increases of around $1 billion on sales, alcohol, satellite television, meals and hotels.

Makes you want to go out to dinner, doesn't it?

Patrick had the audacity to call the budget "austere" and "painful," even though, after various legislative and executive machinations, it will likely end up being as much or more than the budget that just expired.

This, at a time when household net worth across the country has dropped 20 percent since its peak in 2007. The Federal Reserve reported that the wealth of American households was down $1.33 trillion during the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period a year ago. Massachusetts has 111,100 fewer jobs than a year ago.

But Patrick and the Legislature never even tried to cut the pay of those employed by the state and its related "authorities," so they might share in the pain that has spread throughout the private sector — a move that could have saved at least $1 billion. There wasn't even a call for wages to be frozen.

And this is not the end of it, of course. The gas tax isn't going up today. Tolls aren't going up today. But they will.

The governor, putting on his parental face to once again lecture his recalcitrant children, said it was going to take more than another $1 billion a year out of our pockets to fix our transportation infrastructure.

This is the guy, by the way, who told us that if the "temporary" income surtax was rolled back to 5 percent as the Legislature had promised, property taxes would have to go up. "It's a shell game," he said.

So the income tax wasn't rolled back. And property taxes are going up.

This is also the guy who said if we voted to eliminate the income tax, the sales tax would have to increase. So we obediently voted not to eliminate the income tax. And the sales tax is now going up by 25 percent.

What was that about a shell game?

But enough of all that. We have been the golden goose long enough. Instead of providing the gold, we're going to join those who get it.

This could eventually be a problem, of course. As more than one political observer has noted, socialism is fine until you run out of other people's money.

And just where will that money come from when all the "other people" are employed by the government?

No problem. I'm going to follow the example of the president. I'm going to let my offspring and their offspring worry about that. It will all be for "the children" — the bill, I mean.

Taylor Armerding of Ipswich is associate editorial page editor of The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover.
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