The tics of the polis

Not to go all Undercaffeinated on you all, but today I post on a political issue. I know, I know.

The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority has released a press… um.. release stating that the city could save all kinds of moolah if we slashed city employee benefits. They compare the amount they employees pay to some “average worker” numbers and that kind of thing. In summary, they’re saying that if we worked with the state govt to make the benefits packages less awesome, we’d save. They present these packages as disgustingly good and vastly expensive.

Here’s the thing.

#1. Duh. Benefits, particulary healthcare, have become veddy veddy expensive recently, and employers everywhere are freaking out about it. So, easy target.

#2: When talking about public employee costs, you should really be making your comparisons based on total compensation, that being salary + bens. Nice benefits packages are a good way to entice people to work thankless and dangerous service jobs with traditionally low salaries. The taxpayer doesn’t want anybody getting rich off his dime, so sal stays lousy. Bens can increase without anybody getting too wound up about it.

Until now, that is. Good for the Fiscal whatzit for looking at it, but before we go and slash the bens of people that haven’t received a raise in years, let’s make sure we look at the whole story.

4 replies on “The tics of the polis”

As a civil service employee I have something to say about this… Good benefits, as Alex points out, are a solid enticement to employees looking for the stability and security offered by gov’t work. Also rightly put is the point that, typically, salaries in civil service positions are proportionally lower than their equivalents in private business. Oftentimes these benefits are the equalizer in a competitive environment. Taking this further: with salaries being relatively low in these positions, does one tempt fate by reducing their competitive advantage away? That is to say, “Are we willing to populate these positions with even less qualified people? These are the people that work your streets, take care of your civic areas, and plan your urban environment…Do you really want the lowest of the low in these positions, especially given buffalo’s spectacular failure of management in the past half-century?

Indeed, I say raise salaries and resubmit every job title, so that we can get the best of the best in here to make things better.

Thanks for the weigh-in! I can’t believe somebody actually read this! A complete overhaul of city employee compensation sounds like a grand plan. They should get some third-party contractor to do it. Now if only we could find somebody in HR with salary management and analysis experience and a deep familiarity with New York State salary practices…

If it came down to a choice between slashing jobs or cutting benefits, what choice would you make then? The last thing this area needs is more people out of work. I don’t think there is any clear cut correct choice here. The entire system of government in Western New York seems a failure to me. Do I have the answers? Hell no. But I’ve lived here long enough to see that what we have doesn’t work.

P.S. The word verification for this post was “wikip”. I think someone is getting sloppy at blogger. . .

cutting jobs is not the answer. completely slashing benefits likewise. Now, the answer is likely found in a pragmatic approach considering both options. The system of benefits could use the ol’ once-over; the package used now is out of line with corporate environments, but let’s remember that this is one of the few upsides to being a civil servant. Also, like any system set up without much oversight and flush with funding, local government probably has a lot of redundancy–it tends to happen when money can be spent without anyone looking over your shoulder. These are probably isolated examples; on the whole, however, those working in the area are probably doing decent work that helps more than it hurts.

I really think that to help the problem we need more talented people who want to work here. The pundits can scream from the highest hill in the southtowns about the merits of living in the area, but in the end it comes down to one thing, typically. Fix the $65K/year secretary jobs, but, crikey, create more real jobs and get the talent in town.

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