Sunday, June 26, 2011

...and plus this... (#3)

The assault on public workers - and through them all workers - continues unabated.

The latest case, as I know you've heard, took place in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris "The fattest thing about me is my head" Christie, with the active support of Dimcrat leaders in the state legislature, got passed legislation that will add thousands of dollars to the annual out-of-pocket costs for public employees at all levels of state government - which, of course, actually means a pay cut of thousands of dollars a year.
The legislation will sharply increase what state and local workers must contribute for their health insurance and pensions, suspend cost-of-living increases to retirees’ pension checks, raise retirement ages and curb the unions’ contract bargaining rights.
The move applies to some 750,000 government workers and retirees, including
all state employees and to a much larger number of county, town and school district workers, because most local governments participate in the state-run pension and health care systems. When it is fully phased in, after four years, the average government worker will pay several thousand dollars more into the benefit funds.
What's more, the bill strips away the already-limited collective bargaining rights of most of those employees.
Most public employees in the state, other than teachers, police officers and firefighters, have had no guarantee of collective bargaining on any issue except for health benefits.

The legislation will supersede that right, allowing the state to impose health care terms unilaterally. For many workers, this means that if contract talks reach an impasse, the government will be able, at least in theory, to dictate all terms, like wages, time off and work rules.
Do not forget that even though Gov. Krispy-Kreme has been after state employees since he got into office, this was accomplished through the active collusion of the Dummycrat leadership more interested in pleasing the moneybags who finance them than the people who actually voted for them and who they - falsely - claim to represent.

Not everyone went along.
"For those of us who haven’t sold out our party, we decline to accept. And for those of us who work for a living, we decline to agree," [Assembly Majority Leader Joseph] Cryan said in a telephone interview. "[W]e all want health care. We all believe in a better life for us and our children. And how terrible it is that the Democratic Party today chose to take a different path."
Unfortunately, there weren't enough like him and New Jersey now heads down the same dark path laid out by others, widening and smoothing the road as it goes.

The various attacks on workers in New Jersey and elsewhere, as such attacks always do everywhere and every time, have their vacant-eyed frozen-smile defenders in and out of the media. Not surprisingly and I say that because of how often it is the case, the facts don't add up to the total the corporate boot-lickers claim. For one thing, a good number of studies show that public employees are on the whole not really better off than similarly-placed people in the private sector. Even the New York Times, in a story about how state governments are going after public pension plans, finally managed to mention - in the 12th graph - that
[a] raft of recent studies found that public salaries, even with benefits included, are equivalent to or lag slightly behind those of private sector workers.
What's more, contrary to the wailing and gnashing of teeth about them, unfunded pension obligations are not bankrupting states. Pension contributions, on average, only account for about 3% of state spending - about the same as for private industry - and even those states with the worst problems could pay out benefits for several years even making no allowance for any recovery in the stock market. And as economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research wrote in March, while the dollar figures involved seem frightening (as they are intended to be), in context things aren't so bad:
The size of the projected state and local government shortfalls measured as a share of future gross state products appear manageable. The total shortfall for the pension funds is less than 0.2 percent of projected gross state product over the next 30 years for most states. Even in the cases of the states with the largest shortfalls, the gap is less than 0.5 percent of projected state product.
But for all of the lies and lying liars who tell them, the thing about this that really gets me, the thing that really disturbs me, is how easy it has been for the reactionaries. How easy it has been, for example, to demonize teachers as overpaid part-timers sucking the public treasury dry.

Now, it's true that Americans have always had a love-hate relationship with government and that despite our self-proclaimed generosity, we are on the whole a rather selfish people (I once said the actual name of the country is the United States of A-ME-rica), with the result that we damn well want our kids educated, our homes protected, our garbage picked up, our potholes fixed, our streets plowed, and all the rest but we also damn well do not want to have to pay for any of it. Even so, it wasn't that long ago that teachers were "the backbone of the community," people occupying a place of honor to who we entrusted "our future - our children." Now, the economic stress has generated a desire for easy targets and the right has been more than willing to supply them. Still, it remains disturbing how easily the shift from teachers being "self-sacrificing angels" to "self-interested demons" was accomplished.

That ease does not bode well for our future.

Footnote: Part of the reason for New Jersey's shortfall in its pensions funds is that Gov. IThinkI'mChrist-y skipped a legally-required $3 billion payment to the pension fund last year. This year he promised to make a $506 million payment - one-sixth of what he was required to do - if and only if the Legislature approved his plan to impoverish future retirees. He keeps saying it's necessary because the state just doesn't have the money and keeps saying that despite having vetoed an extension of a surtax on people with incomes over $1 million.

Put another way, he's saying that a teacher earning say $65,000 a year (median family income in New Jersey is somewhere around $70,000) can take what amounts to a 10% pay cut - but a somebody taking down a million can't afford to kick in an extra penny.

That, we are increasingly being told, is our future.

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