Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Confusing Irony

Scranton, PA, famous as the city-setting for the show The Office, and now a battleground over budget cuts and how to deal with debt.

First, a refresher. In general, Republicans would rather see spending cuts than tax increases, and abhor borrowing to cover debts. In general, Democrats favor a mix of small spending cuts and large tax increases to help keep gaps small, and to borrow when necessary. When they work together, they often work well.

The reason this story is so surprising is that it seems a Democratic mayor has done exactly what conservatives have advocated for. See, the Scranton mayor wanted to raise taxes on city residents. The city council rejected this plan, and proposed a plan to simply borrow the money to cover their costs. The mayor didn't want to borrow the money because they wouldn't have a way to pay it back, leaving the city in a worse situation. He eventually delivered in ultimatum: raise the money through taxes, or cut the pay of public employees. The council didn't budge, so the mayor cut the pay to the minimum wage, including his own.

Now here's where it gets interesting. As you might expect, all those police officers, firefighters, etc. were very upset. They complained to their union, which took the matter to court. A judge ordered that the mayor couldn't do this. The mayor did it anyway, reducing everyone's pay to $7.25/hour. These public employees are quoted in the article, along with their union reps, saying that they are the breadwinners for their homes, that they need that money to pay bills, and that this cut in their pay (as well as overtime, etc.) is detrimental to their livelihood. And let's not even get started on the broader economic issues that come when the people have less purchasing power...

So, which is it? The Republicans have demanded these kinds of measures for years. They want to cut the pay of public employees who are paid with tax dollars. They want to get rid of overtime and some benefits. They've advocated for cutting workforces for some of these positions. So, will they be thanking this mayor who did it? Probably not, because it's obvious that it's not popular, and downright harmful. Will this change how conservatives think about public spending? Probably not. I'm not sure they'll see the parallels between their plans and what has happened in Scranton, but they are there. You can't demonize one person and herald another simply because one is a public employee and the other isn't. They both work hard, they both need to provide for their families, and they both participate in the marketplace. What is the difference, really?

While hiking taxes to an absurd level is not the right course, there must be a way to mediate. If Scranton files for bankruptcy, the outcome will be even worse for these individuals. So, what is the plan? I don't have one, but I hope someone does. Raising taxes, borrowing money, and cutting spending wherever possible may help, but I don't know if it would be enough.

1 comment:

samp said...

I agree with you. This mayor as many political animals do uses the public sector workers as scapegoats. They continually try and set examples by unfairly penalizing public workers because they think it makes them look good. Sadly and especially in this case it makes them look like a jerk. These people have families to support, mortgages to pay, car payments, kids in college etc. I hate it when politicians do stuff like this. But hey there are other cities to live in besides Scranton. Hope cooler/legal heads prevail and these hard working public workers get back what they are entitled to. What a jerk.