Government Gone Wild
The Miami Herald’s Carl Hiaasen on Sunday took on the Tea Party with an amusing muse on what federal programs would these people cut. Social Security? No, not those who rail against government spending while getting their checks, or looking forward to them in a few years. The FDIC? No, not when their life savings are protected when their local bank fails, as hundreds are doing right now. Medicare. Not if they get it. Those who regulate banks? Well, not right now. How about the FBI and CIA, and let the terrorists blow us to damnation? You get the point.
In fairness to the Tea Partisans, a lot of their problems are with new initiatives that put an increasing burden on taxpayers to benefit the considerable number of people who pay little or no taxes. We do not speak of the unemployed. We speak of people who earn salaries, but have no taxes because of their low income coupled with deductions. But I recall from my first withholding job at 16, making $28 a week during the summer and being annoyed at the amount of money that was deducted. That still bothered me when I got up to the glorious sum of $84 on my first full-time newspaper job.
Another complaint is government waste. People who never should be in this country rip off medicare for millions and head south before the sluggish government can catch up with them. And all the government perks those in Washington enjoy, which the average citizen does not. Ah, there we’re getting close, and if the TPs think about it, a lot that is wrong with this country is closer to home than they know. It is not just big government that oppresses them; it is also the local government they purport to embrace.
We speak of the cause which features former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and countless other government figures and economists. Namely, the runaway costs of salaries and benefits to public service employees. Because of their power to influence elections, for years politicians have catered to them – with increasing salaries, reversing the historic trend of private sector workers making more than public employees. On top of that are generous benefits – health insurance and early and absurdly generous retirement benefits.
Federal employees, starting with Congress and moving down to the lowest rung, have been getting those benefits for years, but only because there is no federal requirement to balance the budget. Locally, it is a different story. California has been much in the news with its public employee packages putting the state on the verge of bankruptcy. But the problem exists all over the country, and we are at the stage in a tough economy where people are losing jobs because there is not the money to pay them and maintain the bloated salaries and benefits for others.
How bloated? I am looking at the list of Fort Lauderdale employees. It starts with three pages of people making more than or close to $100,000 a year, followed by page after page of salaries that exceed $75,000. I don’t care what these people do; they aren’t worth that kind of money, with the exception of the police, whose danger quotient deserves consideration. But in terms of fundamental skills, are these people more intrinsically valuable than, say, a private school teacher or a very good advertising sales person, or a good newspaper reporter – people who are lucky to make half the amount I see on these charts. And their retirement – if they ever retire – is money they put away in private pension plans.
On top of their big salaries, Fort Lauderdale city employees enjoy twice the health benefits of the private sector. Illustration: City lifeguards average $50,000 in total compensation. Hell, they should pay for a job where you meet all those chicks, unless of course they are chicks themselves. Lifeguards at luxury hotels make $12 an hour. The lawn maintenance people, few of whom hold Ph.D.’s, make up to $35,000 a year, plus health and benefits. And the city commission, in the worst recession in 50 years, recently increased salaries.
This is just not wrong, it is immoral. Efforts to correct these abuses are going on throughout the republic. Locally, the Broward Workshop, composed of business leaders, is leading the campaign to heighten public awareness of government gone wild. But it is very hard to take back from people something they never should have gotten in the first place. They have the vote and will use it. Only when those who are being screwed over with high taxes learn to vote will this change. The average working stiff has to be motivated to outvote the freeloaders.
Otherwise, it is taxation without representation.