approaches, Michigan politicians will ramp up their pre-election posturing —
attending parades, kissing babies and introducing "dead on arrival" legislation
on hot-button issues. This shouldn't distract Michigan voters from recognizing
that part of the reason Michigan faces yet another budget overspending crisis
is the extraordinary expense of employing these politicians and a veritable
army of government employees.
Last March, The
Wall Street Journal reported that nationwide, when fringe benefits are
included, government workers receive a 45 percent pay differential over
private-sector workers, whose taxes provide their rich compensation.
Specifically, if government employees received the same compensation packages
as private-sector workers, state and local governments would save $339 billion
annually — 16 percent of their combined $2.1 trillion budgets.
Peg Dunlap and Ron Cunningham of the St. Andrews Society of Detroit testify Dec. 12, 2009, before the Michigan House Government Operations Committee where legislators discussed whether or not Michigan should adopt an “official Scottish state tartan.”
bottom line: Members of the government class aren't just staying even with their
private-sector counterparts; their relative status is improving.
A big part of
the difference is public employees' benefits. If all of Michigan's state and
local government and public school employees received benefits equal to
private-sector averages, taxpayers here could save $5.7 billion annually. This
is enough to eliminate the hated Michigan Business Tax and surcharge and still
have $3.3 billion per year left over for classrooms, roads and personal income
full-time legislators have also provided themselves with exceptional levels of
compensation, although it totals only a small fraction of state government
spending. Our lawmakers' compensation is the nation's second highest at nearly
$80,000 a year plus an annual $12,000 expense account. This does not include
additional perks, such as health care and retirement benefits. In contrast,
Florida, with a population almost twice as large as Michigan's, pays its
legislators $31,932 a year. The Texas Legislature, which meets a maximum of 140
days every other year, pays lawmakers just $7,200 annually.
seriously argue that Texas is worse off than Michigan because its lawmakers do
not introduce legislation on a year-round basis?
taxes $1.4 billion in 2007, our legislators have busied themselves with such
serious matters as introducing measures to mandate full-service gas station
service; to designate an official state Bo Schembechler Day; and to establish
an official state Scottish Tartan.
unlikely to become law, one bipartisan bill cosponsored by 19 state
representatives in January 2009 would entitle deceased lawmakers to a State
Police escort — paid for with tax dollars — on their trip to the grave. Such
actions give new meaning to the term "public servant."
In addition, every state representative is allowed
two full-time staffers, and every senator, four to six. These people also have
it pretty good. On top of their salaries and health benefits, they receive
eight hours of leave time for each two-week pay period — 26 days a year. They
also get another 11.5 formal holidays, including Veterans Day and Martin Luther
King Jr. Day, which are not often enjoyed by private-sector workers.
government employees earn average salaries of almost $53,000 per year,
according to the latest state "Annual Workforce Report." They also receive
benefits equal to approximately $31,000. These public-sector employees use an
average of 9.6 sick days per year. In contrast, federal Bureau of Labor
Statistics data show that private-sector workers are offered (and do not
necessarily use) an average of just eight sick days per year.
A 2007 Mackinac
Center essay titled "What Price Government?" provided similar comparisons. The paper cautioned that the figures didn't always compare
apples to apples, because governments may need to employ people who are more
highly trained, and whose higher compensation skews the average upward. However, comparable job-to-job comparisons still showed state employees doing
better. Indeed, given that 29.4 percent of state employees work for the
Michigan Department of Corrections — a workforce containing more prison guards
than highly trained technocrats — the raw comparisons of public- and
private-sector averages is still revealing.
employee compensation figures suggest that a de facto class war is underway between public-sector and private-sector workers. This coming
election season would be an appropriate time for the private-sector's "paying
class" to demand that politicians bring compensation levels for the
government's "privileged" class in line with the rest of society. Michigan
can't afford the amount of government it currently has, and one way to make the
necessary adjustment is to normalize government compensation schedules — not
kiss more babies.
LaFaive is director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac
Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in
Midland, Mich. Permission to
reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the
Center are properly cited.
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