He was making half a million dollars a year. Two years before I interviewed him, he was playing for the Red Army team and subsisting mainly on VCRs he sold on the black market.
So it’s all a matter of perspective. I’ve also met a lot of people who thought they weren’t being paid enough, though they felt that most of their co-workers were overpaid.
Which brings us to today’s hot-button issue, which is, whether government workers are overpaid. The belief that they are has been a staple ingredient of political speeches since the New Deal.
This week the controversy flared again when Governor Rick Snyder released his Citizen’s Guide to Michigan’s Financial Health. In the main, it is a well-written primer that is really helpful in explaining how our state and its finances work.
But the booklet seems to go out of its way to bash government workers. In highlighted, easy-to-sound-bite pull quotes, it says things like “the average annual compensation of state employees is over twice the average annual compensation of private sector workers.”
What’s baffling is why our supposedly non-ideological new governor seemingly goes out of his way to whip up resentment against those who toil in the public sector.
Especially since it slyly notes in small type that, quote, “this analysis does not compare private and public sector employees with similar jobs, years of experience or education.” In other words, a state worker with a master’s degree in accounting does make more than a high school graduate driving a fork lift at Costco.
Predictably, the empire stuck back yesterday with a new study from the Economic Policy Institute, a generally progressive think tank that gets some of its funding from labor unions. It found that most state employees are actually paid below market levels.
But government workers do tend, by and large, to have better benefits. Well, both sides could continue the argument by churning up new statistics to prove their point.
What really matters is this: Is the state getting enough benefit from its workers to justify what they are being paid? Do we really want an underpaid and resentful work force handling the people’s business? Would cutting state workers’ pay make enough deficit difference to be worthwhile, considering what we might lose?
The common sense bottom line is that some people have traditionally taken government jobs, knowing they pay less than equivalent private sector jobs. They do that for a number of reasons, including more security, sometimes less stress, and better benefits.
I have no doubt that we could benefit from a non-partisan commission looking at the whole issue of public sector pay and performance. However, the governor needs to find a way to plug a two billion dollar hole in his budget, right away.
The clock is ticking, and fooling around with state employee compensation isn’t going to get him very far.