Friday, March 20, 2009

The reason that Delaware can cut State employee salaries without regard to union contracts...

... is that the State is not legally bound by them in the first place:

Markell doesn't need to negotiate with unions because Title 29 of the state code includes "appropriations" language that makes it clear the money set aside for salaries is included in the final budget passed by the Legislature.

This has several interesting implications:

1) The higher the level of government, the more tools it possesses to do exactly what it wants without immediate accountability to the citizens. For example, nobody asked you or me--nor did anybody have to--whether or not the Federal Reserve should print an additional $1.2 Trillion last week, because the Federal government can effectively borrow money indefinitely--by printing it.

The State can't print money, but it can unilaterally change the compensation of employees--regardless of any contractual agreements it has made with individuals or unions. This is a power that--as Chris Coons discovered--the county government does not have.

2) The fantasy that State services will not be affected by a 10% employee pay cut is just that--a fantasy-strangely perpetrated with the assistance of the WNJ:

The everyday Delawarean who does not work for the state might not notice a lot of tangible differences in the level of services or programs in Gov. Jack Markell's proposed state budget cuts....

State services would not be as visibly affected. In regard to public safety, for instance, the budget reflects a $560,000 cut through the grounding of three light aircraft operated by the Delaware State Police. There will be no reduction in the number of the state's police officers....

Melinda Carl, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said she has not heard about any proposed changes in entrance fees or operating hours for Delaware's park system....

Although it's taking money away, it won't drastically impact teaching or learning, state Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery said.

The budget also would eliminate summer hours for school-based health centers and reduce teacher in-service days typically used for professional development. The reduction would reduce by three a teacher's annual number of paid workdays, from 188 to 185.

This is a rather fascinating denial of reality.

First, it assumes that tens of thousands of State employees--let's just think teachers, cops, and medical personnel--will automatically put out the same amount of effort and sweat for thousands of dollars less salary and benefits.

Second, it also assumes that professional development training for teachers is an expendable item, and won't affect student outcomes.

Third, it assumes that drastic, across-the-board pay cuts are a more palatable act (at least in political terms) than increasing user fees for services like State parks.

3) This budget somehow also assumes that State workers will hang in there because the pay cuts are, after all, only temporary. But, having accepted the pay cuts the first time--despite union contracts--exactly what leverage do these workers have to bargain for the return of their salaries and benefits?

One of the most important benefits in State service--and one that Governor Markell now proposes to eliminate--is the State Share provision of health care. Basically, it works like this: for every State employee (most of whom already work for less than comparable positions in the private sector) the State pays 50% of their health insurance premiums. When you have a married State couple (sorry, gay people, you need not apply), the State pays 50% for each--or 100% of the total.

This benefit is one of the primary recruiting tools used by the State to overcome the poor salaries we traditionally pay.

Does anyone seriously imagine that once this benefit goes away, it will ever return?

4) And I need to keep this Libertarian point out there: this budget makes a gigantic point about government-controlled health care. Since we now know (see item three above) that the government cannot be trusted to live up to the health-care promises it made to its own employees, how is it that health-care reform advocates can continue to argue that government will be a responsible steward for universal health care.

When the going got tough, the first thing the State did was cut health-care benefits for its own employees.


Anonymous said...

I would like to know what the calling out number was today for state employees.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that a day be picked this Spring, and every major union have simultaneous sick day. Nothing sends a message to the government quicker than a demonstration of the power of motivated and coordinated common people.

Delaware Watch said...

Excellent post, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Del Tech Georgetown employees had a meeting during lunch today. I asked my instructor about it, and his words were "They tried to make us feel better about getting bent over the barrel."

I think this is the same ploy that Minner did with the budget last year, scare people into a 10% cut in education, and come down to only 4 or 5%. All of the sudden 5% feels better than 10%.

If this is all Markell does, then I will be sadly disappointed in him. This is a prime opportunity to trim the fat in the state government, and this reduction does none of that.

jp1984 said...

does anyone know if this will effect Dept of Corrections employees as well?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Brian, this is a missed opportunity to trim fat. Markell could begin by closing down the State Parks that do not come close to supporting themselves (most parks in New Castle County), and channeling those resources to those parks which actually produce revenue (most parks in Sussex County).

Melinda Carl has her head up her ass. Some park fees, and most fines, have recently been increased. Parks have also eliminated ,or are charging higher fees for services on an local, individual basis. Specifically those fees which don't require legislative approval to raise.

Fines and administrative penalties against polluters could be significantly increased.

Wait! All that would require some real political courage.
Never mind. said...

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