The General Assembly Line for Pensions

Have you spotted the line of argument that members of the General Assembly have devised for explaining why legislators who benefit from public-sector pensions are free to vote to changes to the system? Here’s retired NEA member and recently elected representative from East Providence (whose pension comes in at $54,512, annually):

Echoed Duffy Messier: “Everyone I talk to understands that something’s got to be done and … if the COLA is reduced or frozen for a while, if that’s the worst, then they are fine with it.”
Duffy Messier said she would have qualms voting if it “was going to affect me positively,” but that is not what she anticipates.

And here it’s put a little differently:

Dawson Hodgson, R-North Kingstown, acknowledged that “nothing compels” a legislator to do [recuse], and that several legislators have publicly indicated their intention “to do the right thing and … vote against their self-interest,” which was how he described a vote to suspend or reduce, at least temporarily, the annual cost-of-living increases of up to 3 percent the state currently provides its retirees.

The problem is that a suspension or reduction in cost of living adjustments (COLAs) is nowhere near adequate, so self-interested legislators would, in effect, be voting in a way that affects them positively by voting for a measure that isn’t as dramatic as it really has to be. The question isn’t giving pensioners more versus giving them less; it’s the amount of negative change.
Sadly, even Hodgson appears to be indicating that my predictions for the General Assembly’s “reform” might be more accurate than I’d like:

… reamortization with some sort of tax increase (perhaps pushed through local governments and property taxes) and a mild reduction in benefit levels for future retirees — such as an additional year or two before they can retire or a couple more years of salary folded into the calculation for benefit amount.

I should have added some adjustment to COLAs, but doing so doesn’t change the overall… bleak… picture.

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Sean P. Gately
10 years ago

As part of this conversation that always seems to look for shared sacrifice I.E. (Tax increases) I as a resident of Cranston has had my property tax raised on my home 8 times in the last 10 years with more increases coming for the foreseeable future. Couple that with the removal of state aid to cities and towns and the subsequent 200% -300% increase in the car tax we have shared dramatically already.Keep in mind with these increases Cranston will still not make even the minimum contribution to our unfunded liability of $295,000,000.00 that will increase to over $330,000,000.00 next year.
Considering the fact that RI is one of the highest taxed states in the US and Cranston is ranked 4th in RI. The only fair reform is one that is directed only at the pensioners.Private sector taxpayers have paid enough.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

When Obama announced his “two year pay freeze” for Federal employees, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth all over my building. The union sent out e-mails telling people to do the bare minimum if not shirk their responsibilities in protest. “He threw us to the teabaggers! He doesn’t care about us!” This illustrates the depths of union greed and shortsighted stupidity. The pay freeze only affects COLA, which is a drop in the bucket, especially in a low inflation period. There is a tide in the affairs of men, and the wave of public opinion that was gathering against Federal workers was enormously powerful. I was fully expecting drastic cuts in the GS pay scale. That tiny COLA consession, if you can even call it that, completely diffused the outrage and resolve of the rightfully angry mob. Obama bought off the tea party with peanuts, and now the opportunity has passed.
Rhode Island may only get one chance to fix its pension problems and then the tide of public support will be broken. My advice is to use this opportunity and go big or go home. Don’t accept the peanuts.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

When Obama announced his “two year pay freeze” for Federal employees, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth all over my building. The union sent out e-mails telling people to do the bare minimum if not shirk their responsibilities in protest. “He threw us to the teabaggers! He doesn’t care about us!” This illustrates the depths of union greed and shortsighted stupidity. The pay freeze only affects COLA, which is a drop in the bucket, especially in a low inflation period. There is a tide in the affairs of men, and the wave of public opinion that was gathering against Federal workers was enormously powerful. I was fully expecting drastic cuts in the GS pay scale. That tiny COLA consession, if you can even call it that, completely diffused the outrage and resolve of the rightfully angry mob. Obama bought off the tea party with peanuts, and now the opportunity has passed.
Rhode Island may only get one chance to fix its pension problems and then the tide of public support will be broken. My advice is to use this opportunity and go big or go home. Don’t accept the peanuts.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

So you’d also be against business owners in the GA voting for lowering business taxes or reducting regulatory oversight? Funny how it only comes up with regard to labor issues.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Nice point, Russ. The finger-pointing and segmentation and lining up and taking sides needs to stop. Blaming people with pensions, and getting all worked up and feeling cheated and misrepresented reminds me of the DEPCO debacle, when private citizens were the beneficiaries of a giant government payout following the collapse of the credit unions. I was much younger then, but clearly remember the bitterness and outrage, and “I WANT MY MONEY” protests, and discussions around our dinner table centering around “those morons that were not as smart as us for not making sure their bank was not federally insured,” and all of that.
I don’t know, just rambling, I should be editing something I’m working on and popped over here for a break. I was listening to Matt last night or the night before, can’t remember, but during the discussion it occurred to me that twenty one years ago, when I accepted my city job I would have cared less what pension plan they offered, as long as I was clear going in. I was more impressed that the Canteen Truck responded to fires and brought hot coffee than I was with the pension plan.
Now, twenty years of not paying attention later it’s all crashing, much like the morons who put their money into credit unions without considering the ramifications. Depco people got all their money, through taxpayer funded bailouts, I’m hoping this can be saved as well, and better ideas put into place as we move forward. Because we have to move forward.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Michael – I don’t understand what points you are trying to make. You say that the “taking sides” needs to stop. Is that why you keep paying and supporting your union – because you oppose “taking sides”? Seems like what you really mean is the “other side” needs to stop taking sides.
When you have one group of people, government employees with ironclad job security no less, with outrageously high compensation and benefits, and another group of people who are being forced to pay for and bail out the first group in an already difficult economic climate, you are arguing that voicing opposition to this is irrational or immoral? It seems totally logical and justified to me.
Then you say that the fire department pension plan was not a consideration when you started your job. Ok, so lets replace it with a solvent 401k system like the Feds if new recruits don’t care. You’d be fine with that?
What point are you trying to make with the credit unions example – do you think the taxpayers should bailout the pension fund in full?
“Because we have to move forward.” – Not so – people can refuse to take it anymore and move to a fiscally solvent state that pays its public employees realistic salaries and benefits. A highly logical and attractive second option and my personal choice.

michael
michael
10 years ago

“Michael – I don’t understand what points you are trying to make. You say that the “taking sides” needs to stop. Is that why you keep paying and supporting your union – because you oppose “taking sides”? Seems like what you really mean is the “other side” needs to stop taking sides.” The union represents its members, and we pay for that representation. Sides are not an issue. We also pay the same taxes as everybody else, so by your logic we are on our own side fighting ourselves. “When you have one group of people, government employees with ironclad job security no less, with outrageously high compensation and benefits, and another group of people who are being forced to pay for and bail out the first group in an already difficult economic climate, you are arguing that voicing opposition to this is irrational or immoral? It seems totally logical and justified to me.” Your argument that our compensation is outrageously high is flawed. Our compensation was negotiated by the leaders the populace has elected. The difficult economic climate is irrevelant. “Then you say that the fire department pension plan was not a consideration when you started your job. Ok, so lets replace it with a solvent 401k system like the Feds if new recruits don’t care. You’d be fine with that?” I am pefectly fine with whatever is negotiated from this point forward. I’m equally fine with whatever was negotiated from this point back. “What point are you trying to make with the credit unions example – do you think the taxpayers should bailout the pension fund in full?” Yes. “Because we have to move forward.” – Not so – people can refuse to take it anymore and move to a fiscally solvent state that pays its public employees… Read more »

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

“The union represents its members, and we pay for that representation. Sides are not an issue.”
You are paying them to advocate for you in an adversarial way, not to meet with politicians and figure out what’s best for everyone. You have taken “a side” – the firefighters’ side – i.e. hypocrisy.
“We also pay the same taxes as everybody else, so by your logic we are on our own side fighting ourselves.”
Except for the obvious point that taxes are raised across the population to pay your salary and benefits while the rest of the population does not benefit financially in kind.
“Your argument that our compensation is outrageously high is flawed. Our compensation was negotiated by the leaders the populace has elected.”
I don’t agree with your premise that the democratic process is incorruptible and solves every moral and financial issue. It’s a highly flawed system and in Rhode Island it’s badly broken, whether the population as a whole cares enough to fix it or not. Legality is not the same as morality, or reality for that matter.
My personal opinion is that firefighters with high school diplomas should under no circumstances be earning over $100,000/year because it undermines the role of public servants in our society and it’s an affront to the taxpayers, most of whom earn under half that amount. I think most privately-employed individuals would agree with me on that.
“The difficult economic climate is irrevelant.”
Of course it’s relevant. All compensation should reflect relevant economic factors, such as the job pool and ability to pay. Government should not and cannot exist in a vacuum. This is common sense.

michael
michael
10 years ago

“You are paying them to advocate for you in an adversarial way, not to meet with politicians and figure out what’s best for everyone. You have taken “a side” – the firefighters’ side – i.e. hypocrisy. If you consider negotiations adversarial, that is a problem, especially for a person with a law degree.” “Except for the obvious point that taxes are raised across the population to pay your salary and benefits while the rest of the population does not benefit financially in kind.” The population pays for a service, not to benefit financially. “I don’t agree with your premise that the democratic process is incorruptible and solves every moral and financial issue. It’s a highly flawed system and in Rhode Island it’s badly broken, whether the population as a whole cares enough to fix it or not. Legality is not the same as morality, or reality for that matter.” It is the system we have, and it is up to the populace to change or remedy it. “My personal opinion is that firefighters with high school diplomas should under no circumstances be earning over $100,000/year because it undermines the role of public servants in our society and it’s an affront to the taxpayers, most of whom earn under half that amount. I think most privately-employed individuals would agree with me on that.” College is not the only way to educate a person. Most taxpayers that earn half of that do so of their own accord. I work eighty hour weeks to earn 100,000. If overtime were not available, I would do something else with my “free” time. “Of course it’s relevant. All compensation should reflect relevant economic factors, such as the job pool and ability to pay. Government should not and cannot exist in a vacuum. This is common sense.”… Read more »

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
10 years ago

Russ,
Business taxes are hardly at the same level of specificity as pension payments. I’d say a business owner who benefits directly from, for example, a particular government subsidy shouldn’t vote on that subsidy.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Considering teachers I know in Massachusetts, I am unimpressed with the 54K retirement. Many in Mass are doing better. This is not a recommendation that they be raised.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

“If you consider negotiations adversarial, that is a problem, especially for a person with a law degree.”
Adversarial is a legal term, Michael, and negotiations are adversarial by definition. You’re being too cute by half. There are sides in negotiations, and you continue to support your side financially and morally. Please do not condemn us for the side that we have chosen, or rather had chosen for us.
“I work eighty hour weeks to earn 100,000.”
Let me put it to you this way, Michael – can you at least acknowledge that firefighters earning over $100,000 could potentially be viewed as having an eroding effect on the role that public servants are supposed to have in our society? I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that most fire departments in this country are volunteer and earn nothing. In the interest of reaching common ground – can you at least see why a sizable portion of the population would have a problem with that kind of salary level for an ultra-secure government job with many perks and benefits that one can get out of high school? Keep in mind that most private employees don’t get the option of working unlimited overtime, and would take that option if offered. And we all know that not all of those hours are spent, shall we say, working in the physical or mental sense.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

“Is it common sense, then, to lower ones obligations according to current economic situations?”
Yes, if the situation is severe enough. Hundreds of years of contract law reflect this common sense principle. Contracts are legal instruments, not a death pact.
“Will the mortgage companies go along? Or the credit card and utility companies?”
Many of them have done exactly that as their customers have defaulted on their obligations or pushed for settlement.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

“My personal opinion is that firefighters with high school diplomas should under no circumstances be earning over $100,000/year because it undermines the role of public servants in our society and it’s an affront to the taxpayers, most of whom earn under half that amount. I think most privately-employed individuals would agree with me on that.” Most people don’t know what cops and firemen make, nor that it is a large attraction to the job. For a cop, it is “all in the details”. Most people don’t realize that a “minimum detail” is 6 hours. So,if a cop spends 2 hours watching a hole in the street,he is paid for 6. I am not sure about small towns, but in larger cities some of this is kicked back to the cop arranging details. Every year the Boston Globe runs an article on the highest paid cops. It is rarely the Chief. Patrolmen frequently come in at over $200,000. Some ask how they can work that many hours. Easy, get 5-6 two hour details a week. Even in smaller cities, if the contractor complains about the number of details forced on him, he is quickly brought to heel by the Building Inspector, or someone from the Highway Department. If it is work in the street, the favorite ploy is to make the contractor refill his excavation at the end of the day, and re-excavate the next. As opposed to the usual “plating” the excavation with steel plates. Talk to any contractor that does public work involving details. Massachusetts recently made a big deal of a law that “eliminates” police details. But, it has been determined that the “prevailing wage” for a “flagger” is $37.00 an hour, and that it is “public work”. So,there is no cost advantage over police, but there would… Read more »

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
10 years ago

@Warrington,
The contractors don’t care. When you see the cops on details with a cruiser, know that they are paying extra for that car to sit there idling. In my community, the police department can’t keep up with the demand. When you see an out of town cruiser, you know they couldn’t get a local. When you see a flagger, you know that they couldn’t get a cop from anywhere.

michael
michael
10 years ago

“Adversarial is a legal term, Michael, and negotiations are adversarial by definition. You’re being too cute by half. There are sides in negotiations, and you continue to support your side financially and morally. Please do not condemn us for the side that we have chosen, or rather had chosen for us.” By definition you are correct. I concede the point. “Let me put it to you this way, Michael – can you at least acknowledge that firefighters earning over $100,000 could potentially be viewed as having an eroding effect on the role that public servants are supposed to have in our society? I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that most fire departments in this country are volunteer and earn nothing. In the interest of reaching common ground – can you at least see why a sizable portion of the population would have a problem with that kind of salary level for an ultra-secure government job with many perks and benefits that one can get out of high school? Keep in mind that most private employees don’t get the option of working unlimited overtime, and would take that option if offered. And we all know that not all of those hours are spent, shall we say, working in the physical or mental sense.” I would be perfectly content working as a Rescue Lieutenant with all of the responsibility, liability and hazards that go with it for my base salary of 58,000, plus healthcare with a modest co-pay and a good retirement package. It is what is commensurate with similarly trained people such as RN’s, electricians and pipe fitters earn. The overtime is not guaranteed, The first ten years of my employment the OT was virtually non-existent. It could end tomorrow, I have no control over that. As for most… Read more »

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

I see. So if I were to walk into the Providence Firefighters’ firehouse right now, I wouldn’t find any of the following:
1)A big-screen television
2)Beds
3)A full kitchen
etc.
Note that I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any downtime as a firefighter. I’m just saying that a public employee with such perks and downtime should under no circumstances earn over $100,000/year through overtime.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Do you suggest we punch out between calls?
The need for a trained, competent emergency response department exists. Do doctors get paid when the emergency room is quiet? Does the army get paid between battles? Of course they do. A call system in any highly populated area is completely inadequate.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

“As for most firefighters being volunteers, actually most firefighters are not. Most of the country is covered by volunteer departments, there is a huge difference, and I’m fairly certain you can understand that.”
Michael – The National Fire Protection Association states that 71% of firefighters in the United States are volunteers. I want to be accurate. Are they mistaken or are you?
http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/Research/FireServiceFactSheet.pdf

michael
michael
10 years ago

By the way, if you walked into a Providence firehouse, you would also find bugs, mice, rats, broken windows and other goodies, plus the minions of Providence lurking outside.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

“Do you suggest we punch out between calls?”
No, I specifically said that I don’t have a problem with the downtime. I said that I and other taxpayers have a problem with the outrageous $100,000k+ corporate attorney salaries you and others in your fire department are paid in light of that downtime and numerous other factors. My suggestion would be simply salarying firefighters at a reasonable level of compensation with the understanding that there will be long hours some weeks but lots of perks and benefits in return. I don’t believe for one minute that such an arrangement would substantially affect the quality of services, unless you want to turn around and tell me that it’s all about the money for you guys, in which case maybe I’ll change my mind.

michael
michael
10 years ago

The problem here is that you believe that a corporate attorney is far more valuable than a firefighter. Your choice to invest heavily in your chosen field clouds your ability to to consider the possibility that a firefighter is worth the same or more, simply because the monetary investment was not necessary to pursue our career. That is pretty narrow minded and petty. Your arguments fall far short of convincing me, and a lot of people. We all make choices. Firefighters are not making a kings ransom by any means, and never will. Your hundred grand a year will grow, and if you choose will grow exponentially. Firefighters will always make a better than average pay, and never have the opportunity to cash in. Thankfully, that is not what we are after. We have a good, rewarding in many ways other than monetarily vocation, and that is enough.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

“The problem here is that you believe that a corporate attorney is far more valuable than a firefighter.”
There is moral worth and financial worth, and you are conflating the two issues to deliberately obfuscate the problem and tar me as “elitist” when I am simply stating facts. Morally, I think the two professions – and all honest professions – are worth the same to our society, which is why I treat my waiter and my dry-cleaner the same as I treat my doctor and other attorneys. I have stated this many times here in the past and will again state it in the future. Financially, things are worth what people are willing to pay for them in a voluntary market exchange. Government by definition forces people to make exchanges they don’t want to make or pay amounts they don’t want to pay, with the democratic process as a poor, dirty, and corruptible substitute for true consumer choice. Thus we don’t *know* the true financial value of a firefighter, although we can speculate based on the job pool, pay in other cities and states, the education level required of the job – which is relevant for many economic reasons other than the value of the education itself – and similar types of professions. When we perform this comparative analysis, there is no way you can possibly justify firefigther salaries north of $100,000/year. All relevant indicators point to a reasonable and fair compensation closer to half that level. In other words, the taxpayers are being taken advantage of and they have every right to be angry.

michael
michael
10 years ago

“Financially, things are worth what people are willing to pay for them in a voluntary market exchange.”
As much as I hate to do this, people would pay just about anything for firefighters services more often than you would think.
Again, (and again and again) firefighters compensation is calculated just how you suggest. Thousands apply for the job, surprisingly few pass the required testing procedure, thus drastically downsizing the original job pool. Salaries of comparable sized cities are analyzed, and the aforementioned vocations, trades and similar professions with similar risk, liability and continuing education requirements.
I am not attempting to portray you an elitist, I’m for once attempting to put some effort into exposing your inability to give the profession the respect it deserves.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Michael – I do understand the difficulty of performing a detached analysis on something in which you have long been directly and emotionally involved. In light of this, please indulge me in the following thought experiment and answer honestly.
Governor Chauncey Gardiner is riding in his limousine when a bright yellow sign catches his eye. He orders his driver to stop, and he bursts through the doors of the roadside establishment. “Hola Governor Chauncey, welcome to McDonald’s.”
“McDonald’s! How amazing this is. Tell me – how is it that your service is so quick?”
“No se, Governor.”
“This type of service is the future. The state of Rhode Island would like to buy your business.”
Governor Chauncey buys the McDonald’s on the spot and renames it McChauncey’s, a division of the newly created RI Department of Food Services. McChauncey’s will provide one meal at no cost to any resident of Rhode Island who visits, once a day. He appoints you, Michael, as Special Assistant to the Governor, to determine the compensation level of these new government employees. He cautions that he wants them compensated fairly. Please describe, Michael, what you would pay them, what their benefits and pensions would be, and how you would make this decision.

michael
michael
10 years ago

You just lost me.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

The firefighter example is too close to home for a detached analysis, so I’m posing a thought experiment that examines the same economic issues instead. Please tell me how you would determine compensation for these new government employees and roughly what their compensation would be. Indulge me.
Keep in mind that food is something that everyone needs and McChauncey’s will be catering largely to the homeless and underpriveleged of Rhode Island who can’t afford to eat anywhere else.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Considering food is life, and without it we will surely die, and because the citizenry of Providence is accustomed to fire department personell being at their beck and call, I hereby announce that the expansion of the fire department emergency response scope of responsibilities will include, but not be limited to food shopping trips.
To activate the service, a hungry citizen will call 911, and explain to the operator their emergency. The proper response will be dispatched depending on the severity of the hunger, and be triaged accordingly. If a citizen has eaten within a two hour time span, the fire department response will be considered non-life threatening, and an ambulance only will respond. If the citizen has gone two-five hours without eating, an Advanced Life Support team will be dispatched, the first arriving unit will be supplied with snacks, the contents of which must be approved by the newly formed “Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Emergency Nutritional Directives.”
In the event of a six hour fast a full first alarm compliment, consisting of three engine companies, two ladder companies, a heavy rescue unit , battalion chief and ambulance will be deployed. Additional resources will be put on alert.
The Honorable Congressman David Cicillini has procured Federal funding for the “Emergency Feeding Program,” and is spearheading the Cradle to Grave initiative.
Remember, nobody need go hungry when they can call 911 for everything!
Those who fall through the cracks are encouraged to have the cities ambulances transport them directly to McChaunceys, where their daily allotment of foodstuff will be provided.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
10 years ago

The only fair reform is one that is directed only at the pensioners.Private sector taxpayers have paid enough.
Posted by Sean P. Gately at September 28, 2011 8:03 AM
That says it all.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Ok, you refuse to answer the question. That’s fine, I expected as much, although I am disappointed because your response would provide the starting point for a more meaningful discussion of the economic concepts involved in both scenarios.
For what it’s worth, I would be in favor of allowing EMT’s the discretion to decide who needs to go to the hospital and who doesn’t, but it will never happen because people think with their emotions and are irrationally unwilling to tolerate any margin of error in anything health-related.

michael
michael
10 years ago

You are attempting to correlate an entry level workforce position easily and traditionally filled with high school part-time workers with highly trained and dedicated firefighters. There is no way I can or will use what little time I have to engage in this debate on such a preposterous premise, simply for arguments sake.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Michael – Your ego is getting the better of you and you’re completely missing the purpose and focus of the thought experiment. The question of how comparable fast food jobs are to firefighter jobs is not even relevant to the discussion. I’m certainly not comparing them here. The question that you refuse to answer, and is present in both scenarios, is what is a fair level of compensation for government employees and how to responsibly arrive at that compensation level. I’m asking you to discuss what factors you think are relevant in the example and explain how you would weigh them to arrive at specific numbers.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

Dan-I am one of those Federal retirees who lost the COLA on my pension,Social Security,and VA disability benefits.
I have never “whined” about the first two,but why “f**k”veterans?We gave the government a blank check on our lives and I’m not regretting it myself,but it’s cost me my health-I usually halfway agree with you,but think about what you’re saying.Spend a week at the VA Hospital in Providence and then say “F**K you leeches”.
I gotta tell you,every time I’m there I count myself lucky compared to some of my brothers and sisters.
Michael-I’m probably with you most of the time because I don’t have the balls to do your job-no way I’d choose a smoke filled room teetering on a ladder over maybe getting shot.
Just a thought-bring down the personal crap half a notch.
I go at it with Phil,Russ,sammy,and OTL.
I actually don’that much dislike OTL.
I’ve met Russ and he’s not evil,just a robot.
I would as soon not ever meet Phil and the only person here I have hated is Stuart/triplerichard/whatever else.
sammy is a troll,so,WTF.
mangeek is a real good mentally challenging commenter.
I’m frequently a jerk-so what?

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Joe – I didn’t say retiree pensions should be frozen for Feds, I said that losing COLA for two years on current Fed salaries is a small price to pay for buying off any and all criticism into the future, much of which, but not all, is well-deserved. I could go on for quite some time about all the grossly overcompensated Fed workers with whom I am directly familiar, most of whom work in HR or admin assistance or perform functions you’ve never even heard of like paperwork reduction (which happens to accomplish the opposite goal) and earn $112,000+/year.
I think you are confused regarding Michael’s job, although that’s understandable based on popular media portrayals. He doesn’t run into towering infernos – he transports mentally ill homeless people and alcoholics to the hospital all day in an ambulance so they can be fed and medicated with your tax dollars.

Andrew
Editor
10 years ago

Dan, or someone who routinely goes apoplectic at the slightest hint that something you’ve said might have been misinterpreted (though it’s usually a case of you backpedaling), your wholesale attribution to Michael of something he’s never come close to saying is incredibly hypocritical. That’s on top of displaying your usual ignorance about any kind of work environment different from regimented cubicle life. (Anyone with even a minimum familiarity with the subject knows that EMS consider themselves to be in a different line-of-work than firefighting).
And there’s nothing economically rational about declaring that because someone works for a corporation, they will be the compensation standard by which all others are judged.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Andrew, I honestly don’t know to what you are referring. Your comment is vague and confusing. What statement of Michael’s do you believe that I misrepresented?
It seems you are guilty of the same offense of which you are accusing me because I never said anything even resembling what you describe in your final paragraph. I suspect that you are missing my central point. It has nothing to do with working for a corporation or not.

Andrew
Editor
10 years ago

Why did you use corporate lawyers for your salary comparison, and not just lawyers-in-general, who have the same basic education requirements?
(And now watch the backpedal begin…)

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

There are several related reasons, but I’ll give you the short version. There is a general dichotomy in the legal profession between public interest lawyers who tend to earn modest salaries and corporate attorneys who tend to earn considerably more (over $100,000, like Michael). As an aside, the latter group works in the field of corporate law for limited liability partnerships, not for corporations, although I can see how that would be confusing.
The lower salaries for the first group are reflective of the nature of public service, the fact that the qualified job pool is wider, and the lower educational requirements in terms of school rank, which also translates into less debt on average.
Michael’s profession has more in common with the first group (many of whom work 80-hour workweeks as prosecutors and public defenders) but gets compensated on par with the second. This is why I made the specific comparison to corporate attorneys. It has nothing to do with elitism or moral values or which profession is “better.”
You didn’t answer my first question. How did I misrepresent Michael?

Andrew
Editor
10 years ago

Dan,
To explain how your invocation of a “corporate” profession wasn’t intended to mean that pay shouldn’t depend on whether you work for a corporation or not, you just gave us your “short” explanation of why corporate employment in one job should set the upper limit on the salary scale across multiple jobs. Your body of work is not holding together.
Michael’s job is more than being a taxi for true non-emergencies. It’s not what EMS units do all day, and by-the-way, I believe it is a part of the job he would change if he could; that was the point of his example in the comment at 9:15. Have I misunderstood where you are taking your characterization from?

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Andrew – You aren’t understanding my central point. Unlike private sector jobs, government salaries aren’t set by market forces so the potential exists for political abuse or various other types of distortion to occur. They only way to evaluate them is thus to compare them with benchmarks and well-understood compensation trends from the private sector. My point with that specific comparison was to illustrate that none of the economic reasons for high corporate attorney salaries are present in firefighting. In fact, firefighting seems to have more in common with different types of private (or even public) sector jobs that pay less than half of what Michael earns. If you don’t like the benchmarks I am using as examples, by all means, pick different ones and present them.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Just for the record I have never made over or near 100,000 in any given year. I could, but I’m tired.
I have attempted to as simply as possible state my opinions, based on fact, the reasons why firefighters earn similar salaries as RN’s electricians, finish carpenters and I suppose some lawyers, though I thought they made far more than I do, especially those in their forties, or in my case, pushing fifty.
This comment thread had potential, but when the scenario of fast food workers as an example of all government workers entered the discussion I lost interest.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Michael – Now you’re deliberately distorting. I never said fast food workers are an example of all government employees. I simply asked what you would pay them if they were converted from private sector to public. Please represent things accurately.
I’m looking at a copy of the 2008 payroll for the city of Providence and it says that you earned 102,408.04 that year in salary plus overtime. Are they mistaken or are you?

Andrew
Editor
10 years ago

Dan,
I understand your central point. It’s that corporate pay scales in the legal profession set a limit that certain other professions should not be allowed to exceed or apparently even come close to. You keep trying to tell me that that’s not the point, then go ahead with restating it.
The problem with relying heavily on such theoretical comparisons across professions is that what gets compared is highly dependent on the biases of the central planner. For instance, you can make the argument that the work done by police and fire are more comparable with some lawyers then with many other blue-collar professions, in that what they are all really paid for is responding to (admittedly, different kinds of) emergencies.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Must have had a good year, I was looking at my tax returns after deductions.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Andrew – I have already explained my point more than enough. You and Michael are apparently intent on tag-teaming up to misrepresent my argument as some sort of arbitrary elitist bar that I am placing on blue-collar workers to keep them subjugated. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am simply illustrating the difficulty in determining fair compensation for public employees due to the fundamental nature of government. I AGREE with you that it is difficult to compare public compensation with private compensation and across professions, but it is the only tool we have in making sure that public employees are not being grossly overcompensated. If $100,000 for firefighters doesn’t set off alarm bells for you, I’m wondering what level of compensation for them would and what basis you would have for objecting to it, since apparently comparing their compensation to corporate attorneys is repugnant and elitist.
I still don’t understand why you insist on constantly attacking me over even basic points while blanket defending anyone who happens to wear a uniform or carry a paramilitary title. I know that you and Michael do share the same last name, but I was under the impression that this was coincidence. Somewhere along the line I seem to have placed a massive chip on your shoulder. I would remove it if I knew how. You are a smart man but right now you are arguing for the sake of arguing and literally talking nonsense.

michael
michael
10 years ago

“I think you are confused regarding Michael’s job, although that’s understandable based on popular media portrayals. He doesn’t run into towering infernos – he transports mentally ill homeless people and alcoholics to the hospital all day in an ambulance so they can be fed and medicated with your tax dollars.”
Perhaps this comment will clarify things for you, Dan. I engaged in this discussion, as you have consistently claimed that I refuse to do, and your underhanded thinly veiled insult did not sit well with Andrew, or myself. It isn’t the first time you have thrown out similar inflammatory commentary which does nothing but turn any discussion into a joke. It would be much more palatable if you did not maintain your holier than though, poor me, everybody attacks me for no reason while I engage in thoughtful discussion mantra.
Just curious, how did it feel to have the ability to research my income? A person with libertarian sensibilities would have passed, on principle alone.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Michael – If you don’t want people to think that your job consists largely of chauffeuring the mentally ill, gang-bangers, drug addicts, crybabies and alcoholics to the hospital, then stop portraying it that way on your blog, Rescuing Providence, which I have been reading at your suggestion for the past month or so. I am familiar through my current work with what goes on in many of the nation’s emergency rooms – it’s not an exaggeration to say that 50% or more are people with substance abuse problems. I guess only you are allowed to complain about how the healthcare system is broken and taxpayer funds are being abused because you’re the “expert” in the field? Nobody else?
“Just curious, how did it feel to have the ability to research my income? A person with libertarian sensibilities would have passed, on principle alone.”
You’re a smart man, but this is perhaps the stupidest thing you’ve ever written. I knew the day I took a public job that my salary would be public knowledge, and I have absolutely no problem with that. In fact, it is essential to the open functioning of our government. There is nothing anti-libertarian about believing in government transparency regarding appropriation of public funds. I’m just shocked you didn’t realize this kind of information was out there.

michael
michael
10 years ago

I’m well aware it’s out there, It’s just a little voyeuristic to go creeping around somebodies personal information because you can. Peoples names should not be part of the transparency, positions, fine.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Dan, what blog are you reading? I just went back a month, seizures, car accidents fires…?
Sure a lot of what I write has to do with the abuses of government money, but that is far from all there is there.

Andrew
Editor
10 years ago

Dan,
You’re the one who picked corporate lawyer as the standard by with other salaries should be scaled, for jobs that are neither corporate nor lawyering. Stop with this ridiculous argument that it’s somehow beyond the pale to discuss this and other gaps in your reasoning, and either stand behind your argument that some people shouldn’t be allowed to make as much as corporate lawyers make or admit that it is weak comparison.
That you have to resort unfounded psychological explanations and imply family connections that don’t exist shows how painfully thin the substance of your commentary is.

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