When businesses, families and individuals face tough economic times, they have to tighten the belt. Businesses lay off workers and/or trim pay and benefits while families and individuals prioritize their budgets by foregoing vacation and entertainment spending.
The government sector, not so much, and the electorate are angry about it.
Accordingly, governors and governors-elect throughout the country are talking about trimming back state employee pay and benefits as part of austerity packages to balance state budgets.
But this heightened focus on public employee pay has "Public servants feeling sting of budget rancor," today's Washington Post complained in a page A1 headline.
"Sounding a note of class warfare in bleak times, some politicians take a tougher line on government workers' salaries and benefits," lamented the headline on pages A6-A7 where the 34-paragraph December 21 article continued.
Post staffer writers Karen Tumulty and Ed O'Keefe opened by lamenting that "you don't hear" the term "public servant" much anymore, and when you do, "it is with the kind of umbrage ordinarily aimed at Wall Street financiers and convenience store bandits."
For example, the duo complained, outgoing Minnesota governor and prospective 2012 GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty "sounded a class-war note" in an op-ed last week in the Wall Street Journal.
Pawlenty's offending statement?: "Unionized public employees are making more money, receiving more generous benefits and enjoying greater job security than the working families forced to pay for it with ever-higher taxes, deficits and debt."
Tumulty and O'Keefe then added that even Democratic pols are hoping to cut back on public employee spending, with New York Governor-elect Cuomo "girding for battle" with Empire State employees, "warning that [their] salaries and benefits are unsustainable at a time when the state has a $9 billion deficit."
The Post writers quipped that "an eight-hour day in a drab Independence Avenue office building can look like a supremely privileged lifestyle when Americans in the private sector are panicked and furious over what has happened to their own salaries, health coverage and 401(k)s."
Of course many Americans are anxious over the economy, but that doesn't negate the real public policy implications of a heavy public sector payroll, particularly when public sector bureuacracy is more often an impediment to private sector job creation, not an aid.
It is taxpayers, after all, who are paying the salaries of "public servants," and hence it's not unreasonable for taxpayers to see some more bang for their buck in tax expenditures.
Yet this line of argument was virtually absent from Tumulty and O'Keefe's story. Instead the reporters focused on the grievances of liberal-leaning union flaks.
"The balancing of the budget gives them [conservatives] an opportunity that they have seized upon to weaken the public-sector unions, because the public-sector unions are the heart and pulse of the American labor movement," American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) president Gerald McEntee griped to the Post.
"[M]any federal workers felt betrayed when President Obama put a two-year freeze on their salaries as one of his first peace offerings after the Democrats' midterm election losses," Tumulty and O'Keefe noted, before quoting American Federation of Government Employees president John Gage grousing that he "was really disappointed in the Obama administration.... It was simply a public relations piece."