I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fair is (Un)Fair Update:

Regarding my post below about Mayor Bollwage's wish to axe at least 20% from public worker's salaries:

I cross posted at Blue Jersey; a commenter responded:
A teacher at the state's median income (about 60k I think), pays $900 for family insurance that costs that state about 15k. (and I'd bet it's more)
I agree, 7k or 8k is silly, equally as silly as only $900 for coverage that most private sector employees pay about $3k for... (and I'd bet, not as robust)
So let me ask you, what do you think is the fair number?
Considering your own analysis above, health care costs are now about 30% of median salary in the state.
Clearly this wasn't the case when many people entered the public sector, don't you think some change is necessary?
My reply:

My own admission was not that the state paid - the district/town pays. I'd like to know where your $3k number comes from; is that for college-educated professionals?

I refer you to Bruce Baker at Rutgers:

Aside from pointing out teachers get paid 2/3 of what similarly experienced and credentialed workers get for 5/6 of the weeks worked, Bruce cites this study:

...overall K-12 teacher compensation was 27.5% greater than teacher wages alone, while overall professional compensation was 23.5% greater than professional wages. These differences in benefit shares translate into a benefits "bias"of 2.8 percentage points in 2006.
Yes, things have gotten more expensive over the last 4 years in health care, but let's get real - the "gap" between private and public benefits is not nearly as big as the union bashers would have the public believe.

You ask me "What's fair?" I say "Depends on what you're willing to pay me in salary." Good benefits were always an implicit tradeoff for lowered salary - not just current salary, but potential future salary (you're going to make a lot more as a top lawyer in your field than as a top teacher).

So let the collective bargaining take place. I don't have a problem with tying that bargaining to revenues - no public worker wants their employer to go broke. But don't go breaking the implicit deal public employees have had with their governments because of the "Shock Doctrine" games being played by Christie.
Which brings me to your last question: "Is some change necessary?" You bet:

1) Go ahead and cap the sick leave pay, the overtime abuse, the double-dipping on pensions, and all the other abuses of the system. No reasonable person wants that.

2) Bargain hard with the health insurers. Stop shrugging your shoulders every time Horizon Blue Cross wants to raise premiums 10% - 25%. Move to self-insuring the entire state if you have to - there's no excuse for this.

3) Throw out the antiquated system of property taxation we have in this state - it's regressive and it's killing the middle class (including public workers). We are 31st in own revenues for the state and localities as a percentage of income:


The money is there, we're just taking it from the wrong people in the wrong way.

4) Stop pretending you can move the pensions to defined contribution; if it weren't for the workers putting into it now, you couldn't meet current obligations. But reform who runs the thing, bargain hard with Wall Street on fees, and put a state transaction tax on securities investments. Wall St. made a ton of money off of Whitman's gamble - they should be giving it back.

5) Stop beating decent, hard-working teachers, cops, firefighters, civil servants, and other public workers over the head like this entire mess is THEIR fault - it isn't. There are plenty of public-sector workers out there who know times are tough: the teachers see the kids who come into school wearing worn out old clothes; the cops respond to the domestic abuse brought on by economic uncertainty. We know times are bad. Most of us are willing to help - we are willing to make sacrifices. The 1.5% went down with barely a peep because we all know what's going on.

But don't ask us to pitch in when you're prepared to give a huge tax cut to millionaires. Don't ask us to sacrifice when you compare us to drug-dealers and constantly whine about our greed. Don't so radically change the game that you expect us to take 20% pay cuts without even seriously attempting to hold down health care costs.

We are not the enemy. And we will make concessions if you stop treating us like we are.

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