Tensions growing, jobs disappearing
Brace yourselves, because I’m about to write the two most toxic, dangerous and politically suicidal words any current elected official or media outlet could hear: Fiscal responsibility.
Fact: West Virginia is one of two states whose population declined in the last decade.
Fact: West Virginias rate of population loss is faster than any other state in the nation.
Fact: West Virginia and local governments in the state employees about 118,000 people.
Fact: Ninety percent of public sector employees receive lifetime pension benefits. Only 18 percent of private employees enjoy that protection.
Fact: Nearly 17 percent of West Virginia’s workforce is employed by state, and local governments, one of the highest proportions in the country.
Fact: Public service employees continue to gain annual salary increases; they are almost impossible to fire; they retire earlier with instant, guaranteed benefits paid for by the taxes of those very same deprived private sector workers.
Fact: Private-sector workers are more likely to be jobless than public-sector workers.
Fact: West Virginia has the highest percentage of working-age people on disability benefits.
We really are two West Virginias, but not those being discussed in class warfare speeches dramatizing the gulf between the rich and the poor. There is, however, a division in West Virginia that should affront the sense of fairness of every tax payer. That division is between the workers in the private sector and the workers in the public sectors. No guesses which is the more protected.
Political tension is growing, private sector jobs and compensation are disappearing.
All governments across West Virginia, from city halls through county commissions all the way to the state house, consistently fails to invest in it’s most promising areas and dumps money endlessly into economic black holes. This tribalism in our state has and will keep us constantly in last place and our bloated, grossly overpaid and incompetent political hack system offers little hope for positive change.
No wonder West Virginians like me are upset.
A fundamental rethinking of the public workforce is necessary. West Virginians should not continue to tolerate public employee pay and benefit levels that dwarf those of the private sector.
Of course public service workers should receive a fair level of pay and decent retirement and other benefits. What is galling, though, is when they routinely find ways to beef up their superior pay so as to turbocharge their pensions (typically based on a percentage of salary), while many of those in the private sector lack viable pension programs at all. Sticking future generations of West Virginians with higher taxes to meet public service pension obligations.
More troubling still is the inherent political corruption. Elected officials tend to be accommodating when confronted by powerful constituencies like the public service unions that agitate for plush benefits and often provide (or deny) a steady flow of cash to election campaign funds.
West Virginia politicians have found themselves in a dynamic conflict of interest. The self-interest of the legislators is to appease the public service unions with pledges that won’t come due until the lawmakers have left office. Their successors will have to cope with the inherited debt burden and ultimately the state’s taxpayers are stuck with the bill.
Behold the consequences: less money for social services, libraries, road improvements, education and other public service programs, i.e., the whole basis of the initial arguments for more public sector pay! No West Virginia government has the ability to print money, and they have a limited capacity to borrow.
The current proposal for additional public employee compensation is a wet, sloppy kiss for union leaders.
Fact: West Virginians are voting for economic freedom with their feet.
There is a lesson here somewhere, but it is very doubtful if any politician will learn it.
People tend to prefer lower taxes and less bureaucracy.
Treating current businesses and private sector tax payers as prey, rather than assets, may pay off politically in the short run because elections are held in the short run. Killing the goose that lays the golden egg is not a viable long-term political strategy.