|“I plan to make my fortune in public service.”
In colonial times, citizens were expected to donate their services, from time to time, for the benefit of the community. This tradition still exists in some places. In New Hampshire, for example, state legislators are paid the princely sum of $200 for their two year term.
In other states, public service has become more costly over the years. In California, state legislators receive an annual salary of $113,098. In Boston, the highest paid police officers can earn more than $250,000 per year. This is more than the $220,734 earned in 2009 by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest ranking military officer.
Over the years, the cost of public service has been rising. There are many theories as to why. One belief that was common in the Boston area is that public service workers are paid so much less than those performing the same jobs in industry, that society should be generous with retirement and health benefits.
The New York Times analyzed the pay levels of state workers. The study relied primarily on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The Times found that median wages for state workers were higher than workers in the private sector. The results could be different in a state with a highly educated work force.
At any rate, it appears that a great disparity between public and private pay scales no longer exists. Therefore, when public sector unions negotiate for pay increases, they must be mindful that the funds to pay their benefits will be coming from taxpayers, some of whom will have lower incomes than the union members. Failure to be mindful of this fact will eventually lead to the erosion of public support for the union.
Scott Walker, the newly elected governor of Wisconsin, has developed a contentious strategy, allegedly for solving the state’s budget gap. Tax benefits to business, in order to provide jobs, are to be paid for by reducing financial commitments to public sector unions.
The not so hidden gubernatorial agenda is to destroy the collective bargaining rights of these unions. However, the police and firefighters, reliable republican supporters, will not lose any of their benefits.
Public service unions have agreed to give back some of their negotiated benefits in order to help resolve the state’s financial crisis, but Walker is holding out for total annihilation. His strong stance has been a wake up call to the nation’s union movement.
Some might dismiss this conflict as a Republican vs. Democrat political fracas. However, there are some very disturbing provisions in the legislation that Walker shepherded through the Wisconsin House. Walker has assumed the authority to “… sell any state-owned heating, cooling and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids …”
Such unilateral authority over state assets is inappropriate. Even those in Wisconsin who question union demands should begin to wonder what kind of government Gov. Walker will bring.