I read Bertram de Souza's column in the Vindicator today and saw that he had eschewed his usual targeting of Jim Traficant and fallen back on his second favorite subject, public employees at the trough. This was surprising given reports earlier in the week that Jimbo's inept campaign may have failed to gather enough valid signatures to get on the ballot in the Ohio 17th Congressional district.
Bertram's Sunday screed revolves around public employees being paid for accumulated vacation and sick time when they retire. His example is that Dr. Sweet was paid $100,596 for 50 sick days and 33 vacation days when he left YSU. His conclusion is that public employees should not be able to accumulate such time and that days earned should be forfeit if not used. As usual he attributes this practice to "greed on the part of public employees". It's interesting that his example was the largest payout he could find. You don't see many police officers or fire fighters retiring with six figure payouts.
I have been the beneficiary of this practice. In the interest of full disclosure, my wife is a public employee who works in a hazardous environment every day while I work for a successful local private sector company. When our sons were born my wife was able to use accumulated sick time to care for them. It made things less stressful for us and helped us financially. In order to do this she made great sacrifices for years before the boys were born. We took short vacations and she went into work when she was sick instead of staying home. Doing this didn't cost the county an extra dime. They didn't have to pay her for the sick time during the years it was accumulated.
Bertram's main thrust seems to be that state and local governments can't afford these types of benefits so they should be ended. My concern is that such an attitude assumes the state cannot do anything to alleviate the cost of these benefits. It's not the public employees fault that tax revenues are down. The state needs to do more to make Ohio friendly to business. If the governor and the state legislature were doing their jobs properly they would find a way to put Ohioans to work and therefore raise tax revenues.
Public employees train for their positions. That means they go to college, achieve competency in specialized processes and earn graduate degrees. These employees are paid substantially less than than their private sector counterparts because governments cannot afford to pay them private sector wages. They do, however, receive a decent pension (not lush or extravagant) and the ability to accumulate time off. I know several public employees who could earn more in white collar jobs than they do in a jail, classroom or a patrol car but they have allowed their passion for public service to lead them down another path. I think we are all better for it. If the government decided to forgo a professional class of workers and simply paid minimum wage with substandard benefits we would all pay the price. Excellence costs money, whether it's in a bank office or a classroom.
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