Sunday, May 18, 2003

Theft as a quality of life issue 

It was probably a pretty somber bus drive to St. Paul yesterday, as the Senate Democrats pitched their tax hike over the side and agreed to a budget that honored Governor Pawlenty's pledge not to raise taxes. Some other compromises were made, but the busriders were not happy.
After an hourlong rally, each of the protesters filed past the governor's office, dropping pale green "Quality of Life" bucks in a basket. The cards bore their signatures and the phrase, "Yes, raise revenues! And raise them fairly. I pledge to support our quality of life."
Well, there's nothing that says you can't drop the real green in the bucket and contribute it to the state. "Raise them fairly" means take the green from someone else. I'm supposed to be pleased by this?
Elliot Seide, a local spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the rally was the beginning of a months-long campaign to restore what they consider needed spending.

"We're going to let them know this is not a spending problem," Seide said. "It's a revenue problem. Sacrifices should be spread fairly."

And what part of your income will bear it?

There is a telling quote in a second article today from DFL Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger.

"We want to make sure the salaries of [state] working people are not cut to solve the budget problem," Hottinger said. "State workers are working families, too. The loss of a state worker's job is just as bad as the loss of a private-sector job."
At the risk of offending my AFSCME member-readers, that's not correct. Any private sector job involves both employer and employee receiving from the transaction something they value more for something they value less. (This is even more so with the presence of a tax wedge between employer and employee, but save that for another day, or go read this.) Raises are connected to increased productivity. In a public sector job, however, the automatic steps that an AFSCME employee receives occur without reference to productivity. Office workers at state universities or the DMV all receive step increases just like an increase to a transportation or maintenance worker, even though their productivity increases at different rates. Look at the offices of state and municipal workers. There are many older workers. If there were better jobs in the private sector, they would leave. In private sector offices, office support staff are often younger; they either make a transition to management or a different career (including perhaps child-rearing.) The fact that AFSCME workers are often long-time state and county workers is a representation that wages in the sector are higher than they would othewise be. Further data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics may help you see that.

The short of it is this: The quality of life for government employees is better than for their private-sector counterparts, and made so by taxes paid by those same counterparts.