February 23rd, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #765 'When government employees share the burden'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The president, while watching everything else in the world, is also keeping an eye on the continuing disputes between politicians and state workers across the country. It’s a wonder he has the time to read these letters. At least, I think it is…

Dear Mr. President,

As the clash between state budget hawks and union folks spreads to another state, (Ohio, for those who are scoring at home) I find myself listening to many of the workers saying some version of the same thing: “We don’t mind taking a hit to help balance the budget, but it’s unfair that only we are being targeted. Shouldn’t everyone else, including those in the private sector, shoulder some of this burden?” Some version of that.

At first blush, I understand. As I have written before, I think it is much easier to unite people in hard times if it is clear that everyone is suffering in the same way to make things better. Certainly if the governors in these states were calling for some kind of across-the-board measure to fix the budget, say a temporary tax on every gallon of gasoline, it would make voters angry, but at least no one group would feel unfairly targeted.

On the other hand, there is a catch to that way of thinking.

Economic events affect different groups in different ways all the time. I’m sure in both Wisconsin and Ohio you can find plenty of people who went into perfectly solid industries (such as typewriter manufacturing) years ago and yet suffered when the market changed. It seems to me that the counter argument to government workers saying “We should all bear the burden,” might be: “We all do - in different industries at different times.”

I don’t want to predict how things will end in those disputes nor pass judgment on how they ought to end, but I think one could argue that economic challenges are never fair; and no business - including the public’s business - is immune from getting the short stick now and then.

I’m headed up to Gettysburg today for a Building Up America story. If you call me early enough and you have the time, you can come along. Just let me know.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. mike howell

    Ihave heard no one discuss benefit and salary cuts 4 state gov.officials.Govenor,cabinet officials,legislators,judges,etc.Why are the state union employees only being attacked?If they are going to attack state employees lets include all state employees.Maybe state gov. officials do not consider themselves employees of the state.example/ILL. Legislators can start collecting 100% health care coverage @ age 62 with only 4 years of service.

    February 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  2. Richard McPherson

    Presidents don't run the country..LOBBYISTS RUN THE COUNTRY. I'm not defending Obama, however, Big Banks, Oil Companies, Credit Card Companies, and Insurance Companies run this country through both democrats and republicans by a little thing called political donations, and donations to their districts. I'm seventy and it's been that way ever since I was able to vote and hasn't changed. Only way to create change is for you younger ones to kick your heels up and tell your politicians that "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH". You’d better start speaking up or you’ll never enjoy the American life the way it should be.

    February 23, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  3. Annie Kate

    Perhaps Congress ought to look at some of the ideas put forth in this weeks Newsweek issue by Niall Ferguson. He suggests doing like other countries who have found themselves drowning in debt and sell some of our assets – not national parks or national forests – but things like government owned industries. These, he claims, have not only improved the position of the fiscally challenged country but also resulted in the industries being managed better and making a profit instead of a loss. No jobs have to be lost; the workers would be paid by someone else and hopefully would be taught new skills as the owner puts in mgmt. practices that improve the industry.

    This approach is what big corporations do when they find themselves in the fiscal doldrums – they sell off assets to balance the books. Why the government can't do the same or even consider doing the same is beyond me – we surely have enough assets besides our national parks and forests and assets belonging to "national security" that we can sell to willing, probably foreign, investors. It would certainly be quite a sale and might if the right assets are selected get us out of our massive debt. Congress might take a non-partisan look at this and see how it might help us. The people say they want less government – this is another way to deliver on that promise too.

    February 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  4. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Governor Walker of Wisconsin is running a "Ponzi scheme" on these workers; they've given once and he took that and gave to big business who are still earning on their dollars with lower tax breaks, now he's back for more.

    February 23, 2011 at 12:09 pm |