Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Public Trough

It is now becoming clear that the issues of government spending, taxes and the size of the public payroll, are going to roil the upcoming election cycle-on both the state and federal level. Now we have made our, lower the cost of government, position clear, here and here. What is really ginning up the cluster of issues is the anecdotal evidence that many public employees are living large-far out pacing their private sector counterparts, particularly on the benefit side of the equation. And lavish pensions will be in the voter' cross hairs

As USA Today opines: "Even the most casual observers know the federal government has a serious debt problem that's propelling the USA toward the same cliff as Greece. Less well known is that certain states and localities are even worse off. Or at least their problems are coming to a head sooner, as they have fewer options for kicking the proverbial can down the road. States can't print money, and they have limits on borrowing. Much of their shortfall, moreover, is the result of pension obligations that are binding contracts, not just political promises. The looming shortfalls were hidden in recent years through a combination of outright deceit and overly rosy projections for annual investment returns. But the truth is now emerging."

And the anecdotal evidence is bound to get voters upset-as John Steele Gordon points out: "The issue is public employee compensation. There has been a steady drum beat of examples of government workers making out like bandits at the expense of the taxpayers. The latest is from San Francisco — where else? Investors Business Daily reports that the average salary for city workers there is $93,000. And that sum does not include benefits. A third of the city work force makes more than $100,000 each. The retired deputy police chief earned $516,118 in his last year, thanks to saved up vacation days, sick leave, overtime, etc. It is, of course, the last year’s compensation that largely determines the size of the pension public employees get."

But San Fransisco isn't alone: "Across the country, public employees earned, on average, $39.66 an hour. The private sector? The average was $27.42. In other words, public employees earn 44 percent more. A cornucopia of information on public employee compensation can be found at Sunshine Review..." But not everyone feels that this is an accurate picture.

Amy Traub at DMI demurs: "It’s a truism on the right these days: firefighters, librarians, sanitation workers, and other public employees are lazy and overpaid. They’ve “turned themselves into a coddled class that lives better than its private sector counterpart,” according to Reason Magazine. They are crushing beleaguered taxpayers with their fancy salaries and lavish benefits. It would be an alarming story if it were true. But a new study by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and the National Institute on Retirement Security takes a sober look at the data behind the politicized hype and uncovers a very different picture."

Sounds like a lying eyes moment-and we're not sure that the two orgs cited don't have more than a few dogs in the hunt. But, in our view, let the games begin, and if incumbents want to run with the, let's call it the Traub defense, than go for it. Not only do we not think that it is an untenable policy position to take-and the facts are otherwise-but it will be, in our view, the ultimate kiss of death for any incumbent so foolish as to stake her career on what will soon be seen as the most counterintuitive political platform of our time.

The otherwise facts are that the government-like Topsy-just growed; and now is too big, too unwieldy, too expensive, and too dangerous to our health and safety. Heck, even the president recognizes that the deficit is a problem-even though he has called out the arsonists in his drolly labeled, "Bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility," to put out the blaze. But we believe that the voters are on to the doublespeak-and that Obama and the congressional Dems will be boiled in a VAT of  grassroots anger this November.