February 27, 2011 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: Here’s a teachable moment

By The Spokesman-Review
 

We’ve heard plenty about how public employees are to blame for budget deficits around the nation. It’s as if the Great Recession never happened, and instead public employee unions suddenly began looting state treasuries at a pace that Bonnie and Clyde would find exhausting.

Never mind the fact that they’ve been granting concessions that force members to pay more for their benefits and forgo previously approved raises. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of layoffs.

Let’s look at some data.

The number of state and local workers has edged up across the nation relative to population figures, according to an analysis done by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. From 1980 to 2010, hiring went from 59 workers to 62 workers per 1,000 people.

Workers in the education field account for the increase, CBPP found, owing to efforts to reduce class sizes, better assist special-needs children and other worthy changes. In fact, the relative number of state and local employees outside the education field has declined over that 30-year period, and a total of 426,000 state and local workers have been laid off since August 2008.

Voters, it should be noted, have been generally supportive of these efforts to improve education, but legislatures haven’t always followed along. Washington state voters passed two initiatives (I-728 and I-732) to reduce class sizes and increase teachers’ pay. The Legislature has had to suspend those measures multiple times for lack of revenue.

Then again, the revenue situation is also a reflection of the will of the people, who passed Initiative 695 (cheaper car tabs) and rejected an income tax on the wealthy (I-1098) that would’ve funneled most of the money to education.

Despite these mixed messages, there is no shortage of politicians and pundits who offer themselves up as spokespersons for The People. How they can proclaim “what the people want” is beyond me.

Not a bargain. The budget showdown in Wisconsin has shined a spotlight on the collective bargaining rights of public employees. The governor wants to sharply curtail those rights to help close a budget gap.

But is gutting collective bargaining a panacea? Not according to CBPP, which found that North Carolina is facing a 20 percent budget gap in 2012. Wisconsin’s is 12.8 percent.

Can’t blame the public employee unions; they’ve been outlawed in the Tar Heel state.

Revenue Reality. The irony of the emergence of the tea parties was once again reinforced when the Tax Foundation released its latest figures on state and local tax burdens.

Overall, these taxes when measured against income dropped in the 2009 fiscal year. We already know that the federal tax burden is in decline, which means that taxpayers haven’t had it this good since the 1950s, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Taxed

Enough

Already?

Numbers don’t lie. Initiative merchant Tim Eyman is fond of calling Washington state’s tax burden among the nation’s highest. Maybe he should open a branch operation in Idaho, where it’s worse.

In the Tax Foundation report, Washington state finished 29th. Idaho was 28th.

The only way Washington climbs the charts is when federal taxes are included in the calculation, but those rates aren’t set in Olympia or Spokane or Seattle. This is merely a reflection of the number of high-income people who choose to live in Washington, where there is no income tax.

The doctor will see you. At times in the health care debate, it would seem there are two systems in the world: ours and Canada’s. Talk about reform here, and you hear about the lengthy waiting times there. And, guess what? In that one area, we kick socialist Canadian butt.

So is that the end of the story? No, says Aaron Carroll, who runs the insightful Incidental Economist blog. He charted the wait-time totals from a 2010 Health Affairs study and showed that the percentage of sick people waiting six days or longer to see a doctor is higher in the United States than in Sweden (the best), the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Austria, Germany and France.

All of them have universal coverage.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5026.

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