There are a lot of factors to blame for our state's ongoing fiscal crisis: corruption and greed in the financial industry, the worst economy in over 70 years, an antiquated tax structure that grows revenue slower than both the economy and growth in demand for public services, a failure to adequately plan for an economic downturn (though to be fair, no state could adequately plan for this economic downturn, and no state did), and I'm sure a handful of other factors I'm just plumb forgetting
But if you're a regular reader of the Seattle Times op/ed pages, you'd think that the main culprits behind our interminable budget mess are the corrupt, underworked, overpaid, state employees.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature have a Mount St. Helens moment on their hands with the blatant double-dipping by state employees who retire, get rehired and gleefully collect two state paychecks. Cozy deals, with loopholes scammed or rules simply ignored. Crass double-dipping by rehires in positions never advertised as open.
In good times, the violations might only be budget dust. Deep into a recession, with unemployed people scrambling to keep a roof over their heads and state retirement funds awash in red ink, this is outrageous. If Gregoire and lawmakers do not act and make it stick, this is pure gold for initiative hawks looking for another payday.
No doubt, the double-dipping, now that it's been revealed, is something that needs to be addressed. If there's a loophole, close it... though the specific incident the Seattle Times keeps harping on was actually a case of existing rules being ignored by sloppy managers, and I didn't see anything in the State Auditor's report to suggest that corruption was at play.
But as a means toward closing a projected $5.7 billion budget gap, this issue doesn't even make a dent in a dent, so the Seattle Times relentless effort to whip up a frenzy of hate on government employees against a backdrop of "unemployed people scrambling to keep a roof over their heads," comes off as overwrought, insincere, and counterproductive. And their choice of words only reinforces the sense that what the editors really want is for state employees to join their non-unionized brethren in a vicious race toward the bottom:
The latest nasty details revealed by the State Auditor's Office, and earlier work by The Seattle Times and other media, infuriate otherwise grimly inured taxpayers, legions of whom will never collect a pension despite decades of work.
Shorter Seattle Times: you don't get a pension, so why should state employees? It's pretty much the exact same rhetorical device the editors use in their tireless campaign to slash government employee health care benefits: a shameless effort to turn working people against each other, rather than the corporate and political elites who have had their boots on the throat of the American middle class for most of the past few decades.
So at the same moment public employees agree, mid-contract, to increase their health insurance premiums by 25 percent, while cutting their pay by 3 percent in each of the next two years—a concessions package that will cost the average state worker hundreds of dollars a month—the Seattle Times insists on whipping up outrage against "cozy," "crass," "double-dipping" state employees.
Why anybody who works for a living would willingly drop their quarters into Frank Blethen's pockets is beyond me.