Ed Achorn tackles the myth that town budgets are “cut to the bone” in his most recent column for The Providence Journal. Here is the key section:
Not only do some employees get 15 or 20 paid sick days, they get to cash in if they do not use them — not only at the end of a year, but at the end of a career. More than $700,000 of taxpayer money went out the door last year in Warwick through this means, according to former City Councilor Robert Cushman.
Apologists contend such “buyback” programs pay for themselves, since they encourage workers to show up when they are healthy. In other words, under the accepted political culture of Rhode Island, some public employees expect to be compensated — or, perhaps, to put the matter less delicately, bribed — to do the right thing.
Yet most businesses, which are generally more interested than government in controlling costs, do not find such buybacks cost-effective or necessary. Private-sector workers who are fortunate enough to have sick pay and consistently call in sick when they are well tend to lose their jobs.
And sick days are only the tip of the iceberg.
Similar “buybacks” are available to employees who decline to take health insurance. See if you get that in the private sector. Then there are the extraordinarily munificent health benefits, negotiated co-pays that are based on static dollar amounts rather than percentage (meaning the taxpayer gets hit with 100 percent of the cost of any increases in premiums), step increases on top of pay raises, longevity pay, early retirements with remarkably generous payouts and health care for spouses, etc., etc.
These may seem like purely local concerns but they are not, since state taxpayers are expected to pony up money in state aid. When tough times force cuts in such aid, local officials scream bloody murder — but never talk about goodies they have given special interests who help them secure power.