Public workers have more reason to be thankful than most people

Since it’s Thanksgiving I thought I would find a group that ought to be the most thankful to their fellow citizens and I think I’ve hit the jackpot. Public employees and their unions should be sending a big old turkey to everyone’s house this Thanksgiving. You’d be paying for it, of course, but it would be a nice gesture.

I reached this conclusion by peeking at who has most benefited from taxpayer largess during the last couple of years and public employees have seen a really nice increase. According to Reason magazine, between December of 2007 and 2009, the private sector lost more than 7.3 million jobs but the number of government positions increased by 100,000.

For example, we all know of the great financial shape of California, but the state has still added 13,000 workers since 2008.

Growth also begets growth — not only are the jobs increasing but pay for these jobs is increasing. According to, since 2006, pay for public employees has grown 38 percent faster than for private workers, with much of it found in lucrative benefit packages. The article points out the average public employee earns $4.45 worth of health benefits per hour, compared to $2.01 for a private sector employee, and public workers earn $3.19 per hour toward retirement benefits versus $.92 per hour in the private sector.

This type of rapidly growing legacy cost for retirement has forced the state of Colorado to change the benefit structure for new employees in its retirement packages in an attempt to prevent insolvency.

Trying to meet such overhead has literally been taxing, with states raising taxes by the largest amount since 1979 — 10 even raised income tax rates. Colorado was prevented from a direct tax increase by the progressives’ constitutional hobgoblin, the Taxpayers Bill Of Rights. So the Democrat-dominated Legislature raised “fees” in 11 different categories and pushed through a so-called freeze on local school-district mill levies, resulting in higher property tax payments for most people.

This was not an increase in taxes, at least if you were Gov. Ritter and a few members of the Colorado Supreme Court, so don’t even think about starting with that “but the amount of taxes I pay went up so it must be a tax increase.” You’re wrong and it’s for your own good ... or something like that.

How do public employees get their wages so high? Well I’m sure it’s not related to the fact that public unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spend union funds on political campaigns like crazed weasels.

The AFSCME spent $63 million on political campaigning and lobbying in 2008, which was nothing compared to the $91 million it spent in 2010. Some narrow-minded individuals find this to be a conflict of interest, since government employees have union dues collected by government and paid to unions, which recycle them into political campaigns for officeholders who control the wage and benefit packages of the union members.

There is also probably no connection between the growth of public unions and public-employee pay, although 2009 saw the first time that more union employees worked for government than the private sector. The Heritage Foundation points out that the U.S. Postal Service employs three times as many union workers as are employed by U.S. auto manufacturers.

Public-sector work seems to pay pretty well right here in Grand Junction also. My friend and local Grinch, John Crouch, dropped off the city of Grand Junction’s proposed personnel budget, which had 37 employees making more than the $90,000 annual salary of the governor.

When you add in a lucrative benefits package, it’s real money. Astride this narrow world is the city manager, with a proposed salary of $161,000 per year, which was trimmed by 3 percent as many city positions have been for 2010. Even then, total compensation is north of $200,000.

The average pay for the governed looks to be in the neighborhood of $40,000.

The employees’ fault? Nope, the employees are just trying to get the best job they can. It’s our fault for not paying attention every City Council election.

So, spend some time today figuring who is the diner and who is the dinner at the community table. By the way, we look delicious.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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