03.07.2011 0

To Spend or Not to Spend, that is the Question

Our National Debt

By Rick Manning

The great dichotomy in American politics is playing out in Wisconsin and elsewhere with the future of our nation at stake.

Public employees, whose paychecks are at the heart of the battle over the size and scope of government, are taking to the streets at the direction of their union masters, in support of Democratic politicians who have refused to show up to work.

The American public, which inherently just wants us all to get along, rocks back and forth between a certain knowledge that government spends too much, and a general feeling that they don’t want the government services they benefit from cut, catching them between the classic needs versus wants question.

While we watch Wisconsin with almost morbid fascination, the reality is that this public employee union contagion is likely to spread across the nation as states grapple with real budget problems in contrast to the kabuki theatre played in our nation’s capital.

States cannot print money and have to balance their budgets, but they face a huge problem. Their budgets are upside down, and the dirty little secret is that state and local government employees in 41 out of 50 states make more than the private sector workers who do comparable jobs and pay those very salaries.

As states across the nation are facing their upside down budget situations, public employee unions find themselves in the position of defending wage and benefit packages that are catching the average taxpayer by surprise in their generosity.

The mantra that government workers trade wages for job security has been thrown on its head by the dawning knowledge that these same public “servants” who have enjoyed shorter work hours, four-day work weeks, generous vacation time, early retirement and dependable health insurance also make more money than the poor schmoes who pay their salaries.

However, the love/hate relationship between the public and their employees goes beyond salary.

The public likes to get the goodies that government provides, and these same government employees know it.

To demonstrate this point, please excuse this divergence into a personal example. When I was a senior at the University of Southern California, one of my three jobs was with the Recreation and Parks Department at the City of Los Angeles, where I was an Administrative Intern in the division that handled personnel management making a sweet $6.11 an hour/20 hours a week.

In this role, way back before anyone had computers on their desk, let alone PDAs, one of my job functions was to update the three-ring notebooks that reflected position and service changes within the Department.

In response to revenue shortfalls due to the wise decision by California voters to pass the nation’s first statewide property tax limitation bill — Proposition 13 — rumors of cuts were swirling throughout the building.

Imagine my surprise when I received the new position listings and saw that numerous parks, golf courses and other public recreation facilities were being stripped of their personnel and in some cases closed.

However, I was really surprised when I very rapidly realized that not a single position within the Recreation and Parks main office staff was being eliminated.

Being a young man, I then took the only action that made sense — I dropped by the boss’s office to ask the simple question — What are all these people in headquarters going to do in light of these cuts, write memos to each other?

The next day, I received an updated listing showing that the Administrative Intern position was being eliminated.

The moral of this story is that government employees know how to make government cuts hurt the public, and they are not afraid to use this weapon to keep spending accelerating.

For those who are watching Wisconsin from afar, remember this axiom from a different former employer of mine:

If you are sitting on your couch and you hear two dogs fighting in the street, you might look out the window. If you are sitting on your couch and you hear two dogs fighting on your front porch, you will likely get up and lock your door. But, if you are sitting on your couch and two dogs start fighting in your lap, you have to do something.

America’s fiscal meltdown has put the battle between bureaucrats and taxpayers in our laps. The only question is which side will voters take? The benefits they like or the cuts in the size of government that are needed. Ultimately, that is shaping up to be the main questions politicians will be arguing about and voters will be asked to answer between now and November 2012.

Rick Manning is the Director of Communications for Americans for Limited Government.

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