How our tax dollars are spent is a pertinent issue every day, not just around Tax Day.
Other than shared revenue to other units of government, the biggest chunk of government spending is on employee salaries and benefits. The former are said to be inferior to the private sector, but the latter, we’ve learned in the past year, are considerably superior to the public sector.
We taxpayers are supposed to be OK with that, an assertion Reason.com’s Tim Cavanaugh doesn’t buy:
During the last two years, with public-sector compensation becoming a bitter political issue, a host of new studies have appeared, arguing that government workers deserve the big bucks, thanks to their extra-special skills and book learnin’.
“Are Wisconsin public employees over-compensated?” asked Jeffrey H. Keefe in a February 2011 briefing paper for the union-backed Economic Policy Institute. They are not, Keefe decided, as long as you use “comparisons controlling for education, experience, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, and disability.” …
Why did the field of government-employee-skill-set studies explode in 2011? It all started in a little Los Angeles County town called Bell. In 2010 the Los Angeles Times revealed that Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo was pulling down $800,000 in straight salary for managing a poor town into bankruptcy. Counting pension and other benefits, Rizzo was making well over $1 million a year.
The Bell scandal gave a face (Rizzo’s bloated Dickensian mug) to a growing national uproar over the booty taxpayers are shelling out to government employees. In December 2009, with unemployment at 10 percent, the consumer price index down for the quarter, and private compensation at a standstill, federal workers were treated to a 2 percent cost-of-living pay hike. And in nearly every state the looming $3 trillion wave of unfunded pension liabilities was prompting many Americans to ask why we give DMV drones so much damned money.
The most basic of the misdirections is that they treat education —rather than the actual work you do—as determinative. Public school teachers are more likely to hold state-approved credentials than private school teachers (and they make 37 percent more, according to the U.S. Department of Education). Would anybody claim they do a better job of teaching children?
Most of these studies, though not all, also ignore the value of job security: The layoff rate of public workers is about one-third that of private-sector workers. And virtually none of the studies accounts for the easier and lighter schedules of government stiffs: Public workers work 1,825 hours a year vs. 2,050 hours for private workers, according to the Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards.
Even the central claim about higher rates of education may be bogus. In January the Congressional Budget Office, comparing the compensation of federal and private-sector employees, found it is actually the least educated public workers who get the biggest pay bump. Public workers with a high school degree or lower make 21 percent more in wages than equivalent private workers; those with less than a bachelor’s degree earn 15 percent more; and those with a bachelor’s degree receive 2 percent more. Only at the level of master’s degrees and higher do private wages outpace public. (Benefits are much higher for public workers at all education levels.)
Of course, the claim that government employees are public servants or engaged in public service doesn’t hold water. Someone who is engaged in actual service does so expecting no reward. Government employees are paid to do what they’re do, and they’re paid very well for what they do. Consider this comment:
Lower the offered wages for government work until you stop getting qualified applicants. There’s your market based wage for government workers. Not perfect, but it is not a completely non-market situation, necessarily.
Last weekend’s severe weather reminded one of the killer tornadoes that hit Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo., within a month of each other one year ago. The two cities have taken contrasting approaches to cleanup, and two professors from the University of Alabama and Troy University report in the Wall Street Journal which approach has led to more actual cleanup:
In Joplin, eight of 10 affected businesses have reopened, according to the city’s Chamber of Commerce, while less than half in Tuscaloosa have even applied for building permits, according to city data we reviewed. Walgreens revived its Joplin store in what it calls a “record-setting” three months. In Tuscaloosa, a destroyed CVS still festers, undemolished. Large swaths of Tuscaloosa’s main commercial thoroughfares remain vacant lots, and several destroyed businesses have decided to reopen elsewhere, in neighboring Northport.
The reason for Joplin’s successes and Tuscaloosa’s shortcomings? In Tuscaloosa, officials sought to remake the urban landscape top-down, imposing a redevelopment plan on business. Joplin took a bottom-up approach, allowing businesses to take the lead in recovery. …
The Alabama city’s recovery plan, “Tuscaloosa Forward,” is indeed state-of-the-art urban planning — and that’s the crux of the problem. It sets out to “courageously create a showpiece” of “unique neighborhoods that are healthy, safe, accessible, connected, and sustainable,” all anchored by “village centers” for shopping (in a local economy that struggles to sustain current shopping centers). …
In Joplin, the official plan not only makes property rights a priority but clocks in at only 21 pages, compared with Tuscaloosa’s 128. Joplin’s plan also relied heavily on input from businesses (including through a Citizen’s Advisory Recovery Team) instead of Tuscaloosa’s reliance on outside consulting firms. “We need to say to our businesses, community, and our citizens, ‘If you guys want to rebuild your houses, we’ll do everything we can to make it happen,” said Joplin City Council member William Scearce in an interview.
The comments from the piece have been interesting. All the Joplin comments praised the city’s speed:
As a resident of Joplin since 2008, I knew exactly how Joplin would handle this disaster. The citizens would dig in their heels, move quickly and repair the town; whether you wanted them to or not! I have found it to be an amazing thing to witness…and participate in the recovery. As I think anyone can admit, the positive “can-do” attitude was infectious, and sometimes “over the top”. … The citizens are proud of this city, and as I saw someone else post – the citizens are “self-reliant”. Joplin doesn’t need permission to fix its town…and didn’t wait for handouts.
Tuscaloosa comments, meanwhile, seem to take the tack that property doesn’t really belong to its owner:
There have been many, many planning meetings in which WE THE PEOPLE have participated. I have seen personally how the plans have changed based on feedback from the community. Democracy is not easy; it takes time. … [The professors] want business owners to control our redevelopment. I don’t own a business. I guess I shouldn’t have a say?
Sure, you should have a say. If it’s your property. If not, not so much. Or, as another commenter put it:
Kudos to the people in Joplin for electing people who aren’t control freaks posing as public servants. Central planning doesn’t work at the local level, the state level, or the national level. The higher the level goes, the bigger the fallout, ie, unintended consequences.