Friday, February 25, 2011

Attack on the Public Sector

From The Director’s Desk

All across the country governors and state legislators, as well as local elected officials, are trying to balance their budgets on the back of hard working public employees. All the states and most local municipalities are running huge deficits because they receive less money from the federal government than in the past; not because of the salaries paid to people, who teach our children, plow our snow and maintain our infrastructure. The simple fact of the manner is; our states and local governments are expected to provide more services with less support from our federal government.

The federal and state governments are providing considerably less financial assistance to our local municipalities than they did 30 years ago. The need for the services didn’t go away. The burden of financing these services was forced onto the municipalities and dramatically shifted the costs onto us via local taxes such as property, school and local sales tax.

I read in a recent article in USA Today by Dennis Cauchon, that our taxes are actually lower today than they were in 1950’s. We have a much larger infrastructure to maintain and a larger population to service than 60 years ago. The loop holes in our tax system, that allows the rich to escape their responsibilities and corporations to get away with paying as little taxes as possible have finally come home to roost. This has placed an unfair burden on the middle class and working poor and has jeopardized the financial well being of our towns and states.

In this rush to slash public sector pay and benefits, we have been hearing 3 popular myths that the right wing conservatives love to promote:

  • Government employees are overpaid compared to the private sector.
  • Taxes are out of control.
  • The debt is out of control.

The pay issue - A recent study published by the University of Wisconsin revealed that “employees of state and local government earn an average of 11% and 12% less respectively than comparable private sector employees.” The study went on to say it is true that “benefits make up a slightly larger share of compensation for state and local sector, but, even after accounting for the value of retirement, healthcare and other benefits, state and local employees earn less than private sector counterparts. On average, total compensation is 6.8% lower for states employees and 7.4% for local employees than for comparable private sector workers.”

Taxes - The USA Today article, referenced earlier proclaimed our taxes are exceptionally low; regardless of the claims of the extreme right who have criticized that federal spending is out of control. The article states: “federal, stateand local taxes – including income, property, sales and other taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last 50 years.”

Debt – The fact is, the U.S. debt is not out of control. Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. debt presented as percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is ranked 36 well behind nations such as Japan, United Kingdom and Germany. Our debt is manageable and not out of line in our global economy.

The bottom line here is federal, state and local government employees are not overpaid. By all measures they make less than their private sector counter parts. So what is the real agenda here? Could it be union busting? Is it just another attack on the middleclass?

We are not going to solve are nation’s problems by cutting the salaries of our public servants. We will simply put them in the same mess as the private sector with declining wages and home foreclosures. Our nation needs to develop a plan to put Americans to work! We should not be attacking the few middle class wage earners that still have jobs.

We are rapidly moving towards becoming a country of the have and the have nots. The time has come. We need to stand up against the rich and corporate elite and demand an industrial policy that will again make this country strong and put America back to work!

Jim Centner, SOAR Director

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