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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Florida's public workers take it on the chin... hard...

by Scott Maddox

Recently the chairman of the Florida Republican Party wrote a My View ("Scott and GOP legislators got it done," May 19) touting the accomplishments of the legislative session — and the governor just signed the budget into law, touting its perceived effectiveness.

The picture, however, is not so rosy. Simply put, I am distressed by the changing attitude toward public employees.

In full disclosure, I am certainly biased. My wife was a Leon County teacher, and both of my parents worked for government; my father was a police officer, and my mother spent three decades in the classroom.

I am also biased because I seem to recall that public service was once an honored profession in which dedicated public servants gave up dreams of riches in exchange for a lifetime of service. I also recall that teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and public servants of all stripes were universally respected for the lives they led and the professions they chose.

But those were different times. And that's what angers me.

Today's teachers are no less dedicated than they were when my mother first entered a classroom. They give so much to the future of our community and do so with very little financial gain. No, that has not changed.
Nor has the life of a police officer changed since my father first wore the badge. Bullets are still bullets, and dangerous people still see officers as targets.

And for that matter, nor has the work done by all public employees, regardless of the profession — from the state employee to the firefighter to the electric line worker, government employees are still made up of our dedicated, hard-working neighbors.

But what has changed is that some elected "leaders" — who are themselves, ironically, government employees — have tried to make these hardworking folks the scapegoats for what ails our nation and our state.

At a time when the word "tax" is toxic, they feel it is somehow okay to tax public employees. Those who championed this outrageous act somehow claim, "It is not a tax."

You take 3 percent of a state employees' pay, send it to general revenue — and brag how it helped balance our budget — that is a tax. Remember the adage: "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck —it must be a duck."

The 3-percent payroll deduction taken from all state employees that is going into general revenue is walking and quacking a lot like a tax.
The governor and every state leader profess to be creating jobs, yet their actions show a different story.

This year's budget will result in the loss of 4,500 government jobs, and the $150 million raid on the transportation trust fund is expected to cost more than 8,000 private-sector jobs. Thousands of jobs will be lost on the city, county and school district level.

While I am grateful that local legislative leaders like Sen. Bill Montford, Rep. Alan Williams and Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda stood strong on behalf of government employees, I am truly sickened to see a new crop of lawmakers who treat hardworking public employees with disdain.
If anyone has any doubt that this issue transcends the 3-percent pay cut, look at the bevy of bills that were crawling through the system (but thankfully did not pass).

From drug testing, to loss of payroll deduction, to retirement reductions, state and local employees were under fire.

While public servants unfairly took it on the chin, here is the remarkable thing. Our teachers will still find a way to do a great job for our children, our first responders will still risk their lives, and every other government employee will still approach each day with same exceptional professionalism as they did before the lashings began.

A famous coach once said, "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." I know that our public servants will get back up and continue to serve with distinction.

As a small-business owner, I believe very strongly in private enterprise, but I know that we need an efficient government in order to prosper as a state. If we continue down the path of degrading public employees, we will never achieve this goal.

It's a stark reality. Our state and government employees simply do not get the respect they deserve. It may be a reality, but I don't have to like it.

Read more: Scott Maddox: Attitude toward public employees is distressing | | Tallahassee Democrat

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