Government workers and government spending

Since last summer, nearly every article I read that covers some type of anti-government rally contains quotes from a rally attendee – who works for the government. Or perhaps is retired from the government and collecting a pension. This past Wednesday, President Obama visited the Tastee Sub Shop in Edison, New Jersey to promote a bill that would aid small businesses with loans and tax breaks. (NOTE: The Republicans killed the bill in the US Senate yesterday).

Peter Applebome, a local affairs columnist for the New York Times visited Edison while the president was there and did some “man on the street” interviews. Here’s what one guy had to say:

“I think what we need to do is to stop going into this socialistic society, which is what I think [the president’s] goal is,” said [the man being interviewed]. “Maybe he’s not a true socialist, but his ideals and ideas are — this kumbaya thing where everyone gets the same health care and the same benefits. And most of the health care is going to go to immigrants. Well, the country wasn’t built that way.”

Certainly this guy – whose name is Ron Mieczkoski – is entitled to his opinion, but I found it ironic that Mr Mieczkoski is a lieutenant in the Edison police department. That means he’s probably being paid by the taxpayers at least $100,000 per year, with top benefits and the ability to retire at age 55 with a lucrative pension. I don’t suppose his salary is part of this socialist transformation of the country. It’s OK to spend taxpayer money on him, just don’t spend it on anyone else.

I don’t fault government workers – or any workers – for trying to increase or at least retain their wages and benefits. And government workers are certainly entitled to take stands on political issues whatever those issues might be. But government workers who are so passionate about cutting back on government spending would perhaps have more credibility if they voluntarily relinquished some of the benefits they’re already receiving from the government. But that won’t happen because something that benefits them is good government; it’s only the things that benefit others that lead to socialism.

5 Responses to Government workers and government spending

  1. Greg Page says:

    As to the point about the irony, I definitely agree. I have no doubt that Lt. Mieczkoski makes his statements about government spending and creeping socialism without the self-consciousness that would prevent him from, well, making statements like that.

    He’s got it quite good — a healthy salary, great benefits, and an even-better pension plan. I’ve heard plenty of public sector employees who have it just as good ranting about the same issues. In some cases, I’m talking about people in the upper-five-figure or even low six-figure range who work not a minute beyond their prescribed 40 hours per week and seem to spend more creative energy trying to find ways to avoid doing actual work than they did doing anything *productive* for Uncle Sam. Yet, get them going on politics and all you hear about is how the bloated government is going to bring our downfall.

    As for me, I have to admit that as someone who has worked exclusively in the public sector, bought a house using a government program, and plans to finance a graduate education with the post-9/11 GI Bill and other gov’t loans, it’s hard to be, in any way, shape, or form “anti-government.” Literally every thing I own, from the clothes in my closet to the TV on in the background to the car in my garage I purchased using income derived from public sector employment. Even if I transition to the private sector in the next couple years, which I plan to, I’ll still owe my *start* to my initial training and experience which all came from the gov’t.

    All THAT said, I still think that as a citizen, I have a right to be worried about some of what I see around me — the complete mess of their states’ budgets that the legislatures in Sacramento and Albany (to name two) have made by pandering far too long to public sector unions and promising ridiculous pension packages and outlandish salaries. I’m also worried about what happened in Greece, because of the way even the most ardent self-styled “fiscal conservatives” here react when anyone even SUGGESTS that some of their generous benefits be reduced or even modified to save public budgets.

    As long as I remain employed in the public sector I will continue to gladly take whatever is being offered, whether it’s good pay, excellent health care for my family, veterans’ benefits, family benefits, etc. I would do the same thing in the private sector, or anywhere else where I’m not the author of my compensation package. If someone decided to start handing out million-dollar checks to everyone who lives on Market Street, I would think that person was crazy, but I’d still take the check.

    At the same time, though, I’ll worry about whether the public sector salaries and benefits can keep spiraling up indefinitely, because my observation is that those jobs and benefits are FAR easier to create than to take away. (Though one politician I admire for addressing this head-on recently is Gov. Christie of NJ).

    So at the end of the day, I work for the government, I love the government, and I’m satisfied with the tangible and intangible benefits of what I do. Still, I’m worried that too much government spending could push this country off a cliff…and I don’t think that’s necessarily inconsistent or hypocritical.

  2. DickH says:

    Working for the government shouldn’t mean that you forfeit your right to be an active and involved citizen, but if you do work for the government or get a paycheck from the government, you do have a conflict of interest whether you advocate more government or less government. But then EVERYONE gets someone from the government – some just won’t admit it.

    I have no problems with government employees who believe the deficit is too high or that we’re spending too much on this program or that program, it’s just that so much of the rhetoric (as the individual I cited in the post) has a clear “I’ve got mine and now no one else can have their’s” tone to it that it can’t escape being judged hypocritical.

  3. Greg Page says:

    Much agreed that people all get something from government services, whether they’ll admit to it or not.

    Funny example: A while ago I saw a comment on another blog from a woman complaining about how unfair it was that she pays municipal taxes which support the police department, even though she “lives on a quiet street where nothing ever happens.”

    Based on her tone and the rest of her rant, she really wasn’t kidding.

    I guess she’s not familiar with the concept of Strategic Deterrence!

  4. C R Krieger says:

    I wonder to what extent some of those people remember when Government employees had great benefits, but small paychecks.  Those days are, by and large, over.

    But, the right of a Government employee, the moral right of that employee, to protest may have some limits.  However, I am not sure.  I draw a retirement check from the Department of Defense and worry that the automatic cost of living allowance (COLA) is adding to inflation and hurting all of us.  Ditto for Social Security.  I think current Service members get paid too much, but then when I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, said Second Lieutenants hadn’t had a pay raise in ten years or so.

    And, such pay raises make it almost impossible to bring back the draft (if we wanted to), because we couldn’t afford to pay those large base bay numbers to the vast numbers of men and women who would be drafted.  And, as Gary Nutter points out, it takes about five civilian jobs to support one person in Government, and there are a lot of people in Government.  The 2008 Textbook for the “State and Local Government” course I am taking (Professor Bernie Lynch) says 18,649,000 state and local employees.  That is a fair number to keep the streets swept and the deeds registered and the children taught.

    Then there is the socialism claim.  There are those who frankly do worry that the current approach to fighting the recession will lead to socialism.  Look at the take-over of GM and Chrysler and some of the Wall Street action.  I don’t think that way, but these are not new arguments.  They existing in the 1930s.  On the other hand, we forget that real socialism was at the door in those days, and worse was hiding in the shrubs.

    But, I bet you felt better for writing the blog post.  I know I would have.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  5. Andrew says:

    Cliff, I find it interesting that you’re talking about how much government workers get paid. Why not talk about how little private sector employees are paid instead? Government workers are the only ones whose pay and benefits have kept up with inflation and the increased cost of living over the past thirty years.

    This has an impact on all of us, even the people who are on government payroll. The only way for the US’ demand to meet its production capacity is to increase private sector salaries; the wealthy just save the money. For a while people turned their houses into banks, but that wasn’t exactly a good idea.

    If we want strong economic growth, individuals in the private sector who are not in management need to be paid a comparative wage to what they were paid 30, 40 years ago relative to the cost of living. Instead, we’re seeing a massive increase in inequality in our society. The talk of socialism now is just fear mongering; Obama is much more centrist than Clinton would have been and even she doesn’t come close to being a socialist. But look at history. What has increasing inequality brought societies in the past? Maybe the fears about socialism are justified, just for the wrong reasons.

    Just something to think about. I’m certainly not arguing that government expenditures aren’t a problem (check out the CBO report I posted earlier today); my concern is with private sector employees here.