The problem for me has always been the mindset in the public arena compared to the private sector. Businesses make a product or provide a service that people want and are willing to pay for. If consumers stop buying their product, the business doesn’t increase the price of the product or hand out raises. They lower their costs or they go out of business.
In bad economic times, private entities freeze salaries, actually freeze salaries, not just the base, while allowing steps and lanes or longevity (years of service) increases. Private employees must take cuts in pay. The price of the product is lowered to increase demand. Wages are frozen for as long as it takes for the economy or for the company’s sales to improve.
Public entities, on the other hand, provide services that we all pay for with taxes, whether we want, need or use those services or not. The cost to the taxpayers remains the same, or even increases, regardless of the cuts made by the public entities. Even tax caps doesn’t help, since the public entities raise the tax rates, within legal limits, to get at least the same revenue as last year, plus inflation.
The feeling of entitlement is prevalent everywhere. Many times negotiations don’t even discuss longevity raises – those are simply taken for granted, and in most cases, longevity benefits are not considered a raise even though the pay increases.
Public entities are also entitled to a “living wage.” What constitutes a living wage? Doesn’t that depend on where you live. If I live in Santa Barbara, California versus Rockford, Illinois would a living wage be the same in both places? Which article and section of the Constitution guarantees a living wage? There’s something in there about freedom though.
The government has no money, except that which it takes from someone else. If someone is paid a “living wage” to provide a government service, regardless of its value to the taxpayer, the government entity takes the money from someone else and that person’s freedom is thereby reduced.
The mindset in the public venue is that raises, like entropy, should always increase regardless of the economic conditions, regardless of merit, and longevity increases are not even considered a raise. People in private industry do not receive a longevity increase for simply showing up for another year.
Elected officials and administrators of public entities would prefer to give raises to individuals on the basis of merit but cannot due to the contracts. Merit is not part of the public mindset. Raises are given across the board, regardless of performance, merit has no place in the public entity.
The journey to change this mindset has to start somewhere and it better start soon!