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Opinion >  Column

Paul Turner: Spokane resents public sector wages - especially when they’re higher

Paul Turner (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Paul Turner (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

There are a number of things that make people in Spokane angry.

But I can tell you what’s near the top of the list: public employees making high salaries.

Or at least salaries some regard as high. It’s all pretty subjective, when you come right down to it.

Whenever this newspaper publishes information about taxpayer-funded wage scales, readers can be relied on to fume, sputter and complain. Doesn’t matter if it’s firefighters, teachers, college football coaches, bus drivers or government administrators, some hereabouts get their noses out of joint when they see how much money some of those people make.

Now I realize Spokane is not the only place where this happens. But let’s face it. Spokane might be somewhat special in this regard. Not every city has had nicknames like “the Taiwan of the Northwest,” referring to a tradition of modest salaries.

So, issues of fairness and competitiveness aside, it doesn’t take an abundance of imagination to see how the idea of certain salary levels could tap a wellspring of resentment among those who haven’t exactly shared the wealth while living here.

But, of course, it’s not just those who have struggled financially who see certain public sector salaries and wince. Some upper-income critics of government spending start grinding their molars at the mere thought that unions are partly responsible.

Still, if we could remove politics from the equation, what explains the fact that a seemingly significant number of people here go ballistic about public salaries?

Here are my theories. Feel free to share your own.

A) They are simply exercising their absolute right to raise their voices in protest about government spending they view as out of control.

B) They resent people with advanced educations.

C) Profound skepticism about the expression, “You get what you pay for.”

D) Their attitude might be summed up as “I got mine, but I don’t want them to get theirs.”

E) They think this is all inevitably leading to a state income tax.

F) They don’t give a rip about what public employees make in other cities.

G) Sincere belief in the argument about teachers not working 12 months.

H) Angry about everything.

I) “That’s almost as much as I make.”

J) Spokane is not Seattle.

K) Belief that certain segments of government are bloated beyond recognition.

L) Belief that nobody has any business making that kind of money for those sorts of jobs, except maybe for his or her grandchildren if they happen to get hired.

M) Suspicions of nepotism.

N) Hasn’t adjusted his or her thinking for inflation since 1975.

O) Likes saying, “I hadn’t realized the city was made of money.”

P) Favorite phrases are “belt-tightening” and “cut the fat.”

Q) Lives across the street from a couple of public-sector employees who keep buying shiny new SUVs.

R) Thinks the new salary structures have something to do with affirmative action or self-esteem programs.

S) Believes only the top 1 percent are entitled to more money.

T) Suspects socialists had something to do with the pay bump.

U) Fond of saying, “Why, back in my day …”

V) Wonders whatever happened to the grand old Spokane tradition of people not getting raises.

W) Has nagging feeling that public-sector employees think they are better than the rest of us.

X) “Maybe you ought to print my salary in the paper? My wages reflect the real world.”

Y) “I ain’t got no master’s degree, but I can spot featherbedding when I see it.”

Z) “I demand more futile hand-wringing about personnel cost containment!”

Do you resist holiday creep?

A lot of us grumble about Halloween sales starting two months ahead of the day, et cetera. But do we really mean it? Here’s how you can tell.

You are sincere about resisting holiday creep if …

You refuse to buy trick-or-treat candy until the weekend of Oct. 27-28.

You will not set foot in a commercial establishment playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving.

You do not start mentally rehearsing for Thanksgiving political arguments before Nov. 1.

You black out if someone starts talking about Christmas before Labor Day.

End note

Howard Glass saw the item about assigned seating in classrooms in Tuesday’s column.

“In college it was unusual for teachers to assign student seating. A notable exception was Prof. Zemansky, who seated students in REVERSE alphabetical order. He understood what it felt like to be repeatedly relegated to the end of the line.”

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