Categories
government

State Budgets and Public Unions

Add Drums to the Tumult

Seems to be an obvious focus for the upcoming Republican Congress to focus upon – starve the beast, drown it in a bathtub, right?1

There’s no question that Republicans have introduced a bill which would require more transparency on state public pensions, and that they hope this would provide a road map in the states for where they can cut budgets; namely, on the backs of public employees. That doesn’t mean it will happen in exactly that way, however. And the idea that the next Congress will overhaul the 30s-era law allowing states to go bankrupt seems fanciful to me.

But I don’t think states or municipalities need much help from the federal government in their desire to rewrite public employee union contracts. There has been a concerted effort for years to demonize and delegitimize public employee unions, from both Republican pols and the media in general. This has left a distorted impression about greedy union contracts and well-paid government functionaries. So the new class of Republican governors would certainly want to capitalize on that by pleasing the public, who now favor things like wage freezes (which Obama just instituted at the federal level) and furloughs and bigger pension contributions, punishing those workers. And they are animated by a general hatred of unions, which have maintained their strength in the public sector while fading away in the private sector.

Alongside that, there are legitimate budget problems in the states. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates a $118 billion dollar shortfall in state and municipal budgets in 2011. And there are certainly some states and municipalities with currently unfunded pension liabilities. While federal aid could offset some of that, there’s no chance it will happen – expect the House to pass, early next year, a resolution basically forbidding “bailouts” of the states. At that point, state governments will either have to cut spending or raise taxes to balance their budgets, which almost all of them are constitutionally required to do. With public employees – or rather, cops, firefighters, nurses, teachers, the people who prepare your state tax refund, the people who get you your driver’s license, the people who get the roads and bridges fixed and basically secure your safe passage through the commons – seen in a negative light, they will in many states be lined up for cuts.

(click to continue reading In Unfolding War on Public Employees, State Lawmakers and Media Likely to Do the Work Themselves | FDL News Desk.)

PCBs

Especially when you read about cities like Hamtramck, MI, or Prichard, AL, or Central Falls, RI, or even Bell, CA

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — Leaders of this city met for more than seven hours on a Saturday not long ago, searching for something to cut from a budget that has already been cut, over and over. This time they slashed money for boarding up abandoned houses — aside from circumstances like vagrants or obvious rats, said William J. Cooper, the city manager. They shrank money for trimming trees and cutting grass on hundreds of lots that have been left to the city. And Mr. Cooper is hoping that predictions of a ferocious snow season prove false; once state road money runs out, the city has set nothing aside to plow streets.

“We can make it until March 1 — maybe,” Mr. Cooper said of Hamtramck’s ability to pay its bills. Beyond that? The political leaders of this old working-class city almost surrounded by Detroit are pleading with the state to let them declare bankruptcy, a desperate move the state is not even willing to admit as an option under the current circumstances.

“The state is concerned that if they say yes to one, if that door is opened, they’ll have 30 more cities right behind us,” Mr. Cooper said, as flurries fell outside his City Hall window. “But anything else is just a stop gap. We’re going to continue to pursue bankruptcy until the door is shut, locked, barricaded, bolted.”

(click to continue reading In Michigan, Hamtramck Pleads for a Bankruptcy Option – NYTimes.com.)

and in Hamtramck, MI, the city certainly wants to focus cutting the budget on public employees:

Here, the urgent search for services to cut has turned all attention to a realm that is also emerging at the center of budget debates in cities and states around the country: the costs of salaries, benefits and pensions of public workers.

Mr. Cooper, the city manager, says that everything else that could be cut already has been, while the city goes on spending 60 percent of its total general fund to pay for its police and firefighting forces — 75 current police officers and firefighters and about 240 former workers and spouses now on pensions. Mr. Cooper said that an entry-level police officer costs the city about $75,000 a year in salary and benefits, and yet repeated efforts to renegotiate contracts have failed.

“They kind of have the Cadillac plan,” Mr. Cooper said, “and we’d kind of like the Chevy.”

The police and firefighters question whether the city’s bankruptcy talk is really just a scare tactic for negotiation. Earlier discussions with city officials, they say, have urged them to accept pay cuts, layoffs, increased worker payments to pensions and even a suggestion that officers might pay for part of their own bulletproof vests — all this while the city has opted not to increase taxes.

“Nobody likes the police until you need them,” said Jon Bondra, the incoming president of Hamtramck’s police union.

So we’ll see…

Footnotes:
  1. rough paraphrase of Grover Norquist’s infamous phrase: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” []
Categories
Links

Reading Around on September 1st through September 2nd

A few interesting links collected September 1st through September 2nd:

  • Will Chicago See a Hotel Strike? – Chicagoist – Chicago's hotel workers are clocking in today without a union contract, as negotiators from UNITE-HERE Local 1 and the Hotel Employers Labor Relations Association has yet to reach an agreement on a new pact. The previous contract expired at last night at midnight. “It’s been a fight to even just get to the table,” a spokeswoman for the hotel workers’ union told Crain's. “We’re not close, and I think we’re looking at the possibility of a major fight.”
  • Dithering: Jonny Greenwood: Sasha Frere-Jones : The New Yorker – "Q: Is the MP3 a satisfactory medium for your music?

    JONNY GREENWOOD: They sound fine to me"
    I would add, they sound fine if they are recorded at a high enough sample rate.

  • Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Watch – And if it is indeed the case that the Washington Post is recycling the public views of ideologues, hacks, and torture-tourists like Marc Thiessen as inside scoops, then Finn, Warrick, and Tate granted anonymity to their sources because naming them would by itself discredit the story. There is a place for anonymous quotes in journalism, but this is not it.
Categories
Arts Links

Reading Around on April 12th through April 14th

A few interesting links collected April 12th through April 14th:

  • Adventures In Foodie Land: darkness, lasers, ninjas, and child labor » NileGuidance: A Travel Blog – “Moto: In Chicago, the epicenter of the molecular gastronomy, Moto is the place to go for an adventure in food technology and what even qualifies as ‘food.’ Listed on the edible(!) menu are post-modern, multi-sensory concoctions by chef Homaro Cantu using mediums such as liquid nitrogen and Class IV lasers. Chili-Cheese Nachos as a dessert, made with chocolate and flash-frozen mango? Sounds like an adventure to me.

    photo of swanksalot

  • The Inevitable Clash of Management and Unions | new curatorWhat’s the best way to diffuse a situation between the management of a museum and a union representing your disgruntled workers?

    Hint: Don’t go saying they give “the public sector a bad name”.

  • Can the Statusphere Save Journalism?Recently, I enjoyed a refreshing and invigorating dinner with Walt Mossberg. While we casually discussed our most current endeavors and experiences, the discussion shifted to deep conversation about the future of journalism in the era of socialized media with one simple question, “are newspapers worth saving?”
    [photo by swanksalot]