Living for the Public Worker
Chris Powell’s description of the public sector in Connecticut sounds very familiar:
With its law requiring binding arbitration of public employee union contracts, state government has established an elaborate mechanism of disconnecting the compensation of public employees from democracy, the public’s ability to pay, and even any discussion in politics. Since that compensation totals about half of all state and municipal government spending combined, reconnecting it to those things is the great challenge facing state government.
If, because of the recession and the sharp curtailment of the public’s income, government has to economize, and if public-employee compensation constitutes about half of government spending, then exempting that compensation from the economizing forces all the economizing onto the remaining half of the budget, and public services are devastated so that public employees may avoid sacrifice. This is what has been happening at the municipal level, with services being liquidated to finance ever-increasing compensation for town employees. It’s not that towns have cut spending. It is that their tax bases have not grown enough to sustain services and to increase town employee compensation. So services formerly considered basic, like school sports and extracurricular activities, have been eliminated so that raises can still be paid.
One need only look to the results of arbitration in East Providence to see the mechanism in action. Even with the numbers laid before him, and an understanding that economic reality is likely to worsen before improving, the arbitrator still presented his proposal to advance teachers’ remunerative goals as a compromise.
Luckily such “arbitration” is not binding, in Rhode Island, but our deeper and longer-term stagnation more than make up the necessary difference toward draining our public coffers of funds for much beyond employing people.