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It’s Only Money – The Top 6 Stories of Public Servants At the Trough That Will Make Your Eyes Bleed

Posted on January 30 2011 5:38 pm

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Earlier this month Camden New Jersey laid off half its police officers and a third of its firefighters. Given Camden’s dubious distinction as America’s second most dangerous city – just narrowly edged out by St. Louis after years of occupying the top spot – this would seem a counter-intuitive move, but in the Bizarro world of wealth-through-debt, entitlements and outright denial of basic arithmetic,  it makes perfect sense.

For Camden, as anyone with a calculator and/or a grasp of basic numeracy can tell you, is broke, to the tune of about $26 million. The police union – which appears to possess neither of these – refused outright to consider cuts in the form of unpaid leave days or any other adjustment to salaries that average $140,000 when benefits are factored in.

This resulted in some protests, street theater …

Eighty-three laid-off police officers put their work boots along the sidewalk near police headquarters to symbolize the lost jobs.

… and a brief glimmer of hope that the city government would actually hold fast and do the responsible thing:

In the end of course the local government – using what is become a dreary template – capitulated “solved” the problem by effectively deferring some of the police officers income until retirement, thus making it someone else’s problem in the future, and raising taxes. This last expedient more or less ensures that anybody remaining who actually contributes to the economy and can possibly leave Camden will. Presumably this in itself will ameliorate the crime problem inasmuch as criminals will have nobody to go after except each other.

The police union rep, whose people ultimately had to absorb the deferral of a week’s pay and some comp days until retirement, and a 10 month delay in their next 2.75% raise, remarked on his latest clean getaway with characteristic grace:

It would be “difficult” to ask union members to sacrifice any more, he said.

“If they come knocking on our door next year, the door’s shut,” …

There’s no question that the police do difficult and dangerous work and should be compensated accordingly, but as Chris Christie pointed out recently economic realities are economic realities and no one – certainly not public servants – should be immune to their effects.

Policeman: “With a 2% cap on a raise per year, how am I going to afford $8,000 to pay for medical benefits?”

Christie: “You’re not. You’re not gonna afford it. What’s gonna to happen is you’re gonna have to make choices among medical plans. And have more choices than just 3 choices which you have now, and only the Cadillac plan. You’re going to have to make choices, like everybody else is making choices in this economy. […]

“A whole bunch of politicians who came before me on the local level and the state level made you promises that they couldn’t keep. And they knew they couldn’t keep them when they made them. So, I understand you being angry. But I suggest to you, respectfully, don’t be angry at the first guy who told you the truth.”

Jeff Jacoby in his post What public-sector unions have wrought enumerates four advantages public sector unions have over their private counterparts when it comes to negotiating salaries and benefits:

[1] unlike their counterparts in the private sector, government unions are largely free from market discipline … The government agencies they bargain with don’t have to make a profit or retain customer loyalty; they can’t go out of business or relocate to another state. And, of course, their revenue is acquired the old-fashioned way: through the compulsion of taxpayers. …

[2] [Strikes]: Because government services tend to be legal monopolies, a strike by police, garbage collectors, teachers, or air-traffic controllers inflicts pain on the public at large. …

[3] … in public-sector collective bargaining, labor and management frequently both stand to benefit from higher wages and more munificent retirement income. …

[From the Sacramento Bee]: “Managers also dominate the $100,000 club list. … If rank-and-file workers get a wage or benefit boost, non-union managers get a commensurate hike and a matching pension benefit.”

The absence of that check and balance in the public sector has often transformed collective bargaining into something closer to collusion than to hardheaded haggling. …

[4] more significant than any of these: government labor unions can reward politicians who give them what they want and punish those who don’t. …

The inevitable consequence of all of this is an escalating cycle of salaries and benefits completely detached from market realities or even common sense. Such a  system begs to be abused, gamed and manipulated. What follows is an admittedly incomplete list of some standout games and gamers. Some of it is pretty amusing until you realize it’s your money.

Next: we all want to be city managers now…

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