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“Public” Employees meet “The Piper”…

The Taxpayers are Coming!!

Because, it’s time to pay him.

Schadenfreude is just such a wonderful thing.  As a private sector kinda guy who believes in the profit motive, I’ve pretty much always had a huge problem with gummit employees.  And I feel somewhat remiss in not putting employees in scare quotes because next to lawyer jokes, stories about lazy, arrogant, unproductive gummit employees are in everyone’s quiver of stuff to say when the room gets quiet.  The difference is that lawyer jokes are funny and gummit employee stories aren’t.

Well, things they are a changin’ on that there front, thanks in part to the economic expertise of Mr.Hope&Change and his crack economic team.  The commoners, the little people, are figuring out that the lazy leeches who are paid from their tax dollars by all levels of gummit are bleeding us dry and we’re getting fundamentally nothing from it.   The real fun part to all of this is that politicians, at least at the local level for now, seem to be getting the message that the natives are restless and are laying in a stock of torches, pitchforks, tar & feathers and rope.  Even the New York Times is catching the drift.

FLEMINGTON, N.J. — Ever since Marie Corfield’s confrontation with Gov. Chris Christie this fall over the state’s education cuts became a YouTube classic, she has received a stream of vituperative e-mails and Facebook postings.

“People I don’t even know are calling me horrible names,” said Ms. Corfield, an art teacher who had pleaded the case of struggling teachers. “The mantra is that the problem is the unions, the unions, the unions.”

Across the nation, a rising irritation with public employee unions is palpable, as a wounded economy has blown gaping holes in state, city and town budgets, and revealed that some public pension funds dangle perilously close to bankruptcy.

You might remember when Ms. Corfield got snotty with Governor Christie last year at a public forum and got her [self] ripped up one side and down the other to the applause of the crowd.  And she seems incapable of understanding how or why people would go after her.  Well dear, the answer might have something to do the perception that you’re an arrogant public employee who costs the taxpayers of New Jersey about $90,000 for a part time job.  Go figure.  And take note that it’s not likely to get better for you either.

In California, New York, Michigan and New Jersey, states where public unions wield much power and the culture historically tends to be pro-labor, even longtime liberal political leaders have demanded concessions — wage freezes, benefit cuts and tougher work rules.

It is an angry conversation. Union chiefs, who sometimes persuaded members to take pension sweeteners in lieu of raises, are loath to surrender ground. Taxpayers are split between those who want cuts and those who hope that rising tax receipts might bring easier choices.

And a growing cadre of political leaders and municipal finance experts argue that much of the edifice of municipal and state finance is jury-rigged and, without new revenue, perhaps unsustainable. Too many political leaders, they argue, acted too irresponsibly, failing to either raise taxes or cut spending.

A brutal reckoning awaits, they say.

Well, it IS the New York Times and at least they are directionally right.  But I think they missed a couple of things.  Foremost among ’em, methinks that taxpayers are NOT split.  They’re fed up.  And as far as political leaders acting irresponsibly, yep they did, and it was both parties.  But the irresponsible part wasn’t “failing to raise taxes” is was not controlling and then not cutting spending.  But The Times does get it right in the end, the day of reckoning is neigh and it will be brutal.  The really brutal part will be when these “public employees” get their panties in a wad and go looking for real work in the private sector.  As an employer, I can guarantee you that a gummit job on a resume is only slightly less damaging to your prospects for employment than a stretch in the pen as a child molester.  Slightly.

There are a couple of other stories in the media from around the country on this subject, I’ll highlight a couple and they deserve a full read so you can really understand that public employees are in trouble.  And in places you might not guess.  Like Wisconsin.  And Pennsylvania.

MADISON, Wis. — In preparation for Monday’s inauguration of the new governor, Scott Walker, red, white and blue bunting has been draped around the Capitol’s echoing rotunda. Lawmakers are unpacking files in their newly assigned offices. And state workers are fretting.

“What does this bring? What does it mean? Where are we going here?” Marty Beil, the leader of a union that represents 22,000 of Wisconsin’s corrections officers, maintenance workers, game wardens and others, said the other day. “State employees feel like they are the target of all the slings and the arrows and the bullets that the new administration is already throwing.”

You feel like you’re a target?  Good.

FOREST CITY, Pa. — Ralph Miranda was looking for eggnog here the other day at the state liquor store, a dated and somewhat forlorn little shop with no name, just the Soviet-style designation #5801. When the store manager told him they were out, Mr. Miranda muttered, “That’s why you privatize.”

“The Soviet-style designation”.  Perfect.  What business do states have in running what should be real businesses anyway.  Although I will admit the when we lived in New Hampshire decades ago, the state did a good job of running state liquor stores.  Mostly because neighboring states had high sales taxes and specific taxes on liquor.  And New Hampshire built huge state liquor stores right on the interstate highways about fifty feet from the border.  The parking lots were always full of out-of-state plates.

And finally, in my home state of Arizona

The average cost of an employee in Phoenix has gone down this year by more than $640.

Phoenix has saved more than $108.3 million in employee costs for the 2010-11 fiscal year by reducing positions, cutting salaries and requiring furloughs.


“When you eliminate more than 2,000 positions, you’re going to cut costs,” Zuercher said.

While there have been some layoffs, most of the workforce reductions have come from keeping positions vacant when someone retires or leaves a city job. Phoenix employees also took 3.2 to 4.3 percent wage cuts, saving the city an estimated $50.3 million for the next two years.

The bottom line to all of this is that it appears that things in the area of government hiring and pay scales are beginning to trend in the right direction.  It’s up us common folk to keep the pressure on the politicians and ignore the inevitable whining of “our” employees.

  1. Art Chance
    January 3, 2011 at 9:24 am

    The trouble is that all the simple answers are wrong and all the right answers are painful politically and financially. Public employee wages have come under a lot of criticism lately, but much of it is uninformed or deliberatly deceitful. There really aren’t a lot of jobs in most governments that you can directly compare to private sector jobs. A good general rule is that if the government is just another competitor, it should get out to the business. There aren’t a lot of private sector cops, corrections offiicers, social workers, and, especially, scientists. If you’re serious you can compare required knowledge, skill, and ability, span of control, consequence of error, but that is a complicated and expensive comparison that is rarely done. It is further complicated by the fact that the private sector is rarely very forthcoming about what it requires of or pays high-value employees. Lower level employees are as much a public policy question as an economic one. Custodial work can almost always be contracted out and where a government employees its own custodial employees they are usually much more highly paid than Acme Custodial’s employees. That said, Acme his hiring from the UI Office and the homeless shelter and doing no more background investigation than it absolutely has to. Its employees are one step above the bottom of the socio-economic food chain and they and their families represent all sorts of law enforcement, social, and education problems. The more highly paid government custodian buys houses and cars and sends his/her kids to college; it is a decision somebody has to make.

    Hardly any investment fund has kept up with the roller coaster of US markets and inflation over the last several decades and public pension funds are no exception. The systemic problem is compounded by the abuse of public employee retirement funds especially but not exclusively in the unionized states. It is all too common for governments to manipulate the actuarial analysis to “find” over-funding when they want more money to appropriate or to understate contribution requirements when they want to give the unions something in return for a “great service.” My state began walking back its very generous federal-styled defined benefit retirement plan back in ’86 and is currently on the fourth version of the plan, each less generous, and the current plan is a pure defined contribution plan much like a private sector 401k though the contribution rates are more generous than most private plans. Few governments have had the courage to reform their pension schemes at all and I think Alaska is the only fully unionized government that has. That said, going to defined contribution makes the underfunding worse for the retained defined benefit participants. I think that in only the most dire economic circumstances could the requisite political courage be found to reduce benefits to current employees and retirees, especially to retirees. So, most governments are going to have some number of defined benefits participants for the next thirty to forty years at a minimum. Once you change to a defined contribution scheme for new employees, there is no more money being contributed into the defined benefit system and the shortfalls have to be made up with investments, yeah, right, and with general fund apppropriations. It is no easy task to tell some constituency they can’t have something because the money is needed to send a check every month to some old guy who hasn’t worked in 20 years now and is busy driving his Pusher motor coach around the warm parts of the Country. And that old guy and his association of old guys has lots of money and lots of lawyers in case anybody starts thinking about cutting the benefit he was promised; I know, I’m one of them and I paid every dime the State of Alaska asked me to pay for the benefit which I worked for. The phrase out of my cold dead fingers comes to mind.

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