Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: recession


Economy starting to show some real signs of life . . . maybe

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Quick, someone. Knock on wood.

While some signs seem to indicate that the nation really might be lumbering out of the Great Recession that economists say technically ended in June 2009, we’re holding our breath, crossing our fingers and, yes, knocking on wood. We won’t believe it until . . . well, we like to think that we’ll know recovery when we see it. And we sure don’t want to jinx it by proclaiming it a done deal.
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Occupy Wall Street: A loud scream, but what’s the plan?

Seattle has been occupied. Tacoma has been occupied. Good heavens, even Puyallup has been occupied.

If nothing else, Occupy Wall Street is a triumph of branding. Any collection of individuals with gripes about the status quo can call itself an “Occupy,” lay claim to some public space and instantly be anointed part of the international phenomenon begun by a group of enterprising protesters in Manhattan.

A mass protest of some kind was inevitable in the current pit of economic distress and widespread joblessness. There are legions of exceedingly unhappy people out there. To its credit, Occupy Wall Street has emphasized

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Public sector, meet private sector economic reality

Update: The raises recommended for Tacoma Fire Chief Ronald Stephens and Police Chief Don Ramsdell have been withdrawn in light of Tacoma’s budget shortfall, according to city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff.

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Onward and upward goes the compensation of some government employees, even during the deepest economic distress in generations.

The latest bit of government largess – 5 percent pay increases – has gone to Tacoma Fire Chief Ronald Stephens and Police Chief Don Ramsdell. Their salaries will now be, respectively, $181,534 and $180,551.

That may or may not be too much in a city the size of Tacoma. What’s interesting is the thinking behind the raise: These two had to be paid more because they were in danger of being overtaken by their subordinates.

Without the increase, the city’s deputy fire chiefs and assistant police chiefs – all unionized, despite their high-management status – stood to make more money than their bosses.

Government compensation is rife with that kind of logic: Someone else gets more, so our guys ought to get even more than them. What clobbers taxpayers are the constant rounds of leap-frogging between one jurisdiction’s pay schedule and the pay schedules of “comparable” jurisdictions.

Public officials have a quaint notion of “market” pay. In the private sector, “market” is roughly defined as what you have to pay good employees to make them want to stick around. Otherwise, they complain with their feet.

In government, market pay is generally defined as what someone in a similar position in another government makes – regardless of whether attrition is a threat.

The City of Tacoma recently passed out millions of dollars worth of raises to its employees on the basis of such market comparisons, even as a $26 million hole has opened in its current biennial budget. The raises reflect the city council’s expensive policy of paying workers at least 70 percent of the highest pay given to their counterparts in similar cities.
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Economic crisis is a poor time for political pettiness

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Last week, U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner and other Republican leaders devoted themselves to quarreling with the White House about the timing of a presidential address to Congress.

The monumental question: Wednesday? Or Thursday?

Closer to home, the Tacoma Education Association continued its campaign to exaggerate the size of the school district’s rainy day fund and grab as much of it as possible.

Some people apparently have more pressing concerns than the economic hurricane that may be bearing down on the nation, the state and local governments – including the Tacoma School District.

Given the darkening skies, politicians, unions, employers ought to be collaborating anxiously on plans to survive the next couple of years. Not perpetuating old disputes that strike most people as petty and self-serving. Read more »


A warm and comfy pay freeze for federal workers

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It’s a curious two-year pay freeze President Obama has proposed for federal employees.

The idea is good. Suspending the across-the-board pay raises normally dispensed to federal workers shouldn’t be a matter of debate. Anyone who has a secure job with excellent wages and benefits is faring very well in this severe recession, even without a raise – especially when inflation is virtually nonexistent in much of the country.

Look more closely at Obama’s “freeze,” though, and it turns out that most federal employees will in fact still be getting raises. That’s

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Way too little belt-tightening at Pierce Transit

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Pierce Transit deserves a whole chapter in an economics textbook. It’s a near-perfect illustration of the disconnect between some government agencies and recessionary reality.

Yes, Pierce Transit has cut overhead since its revenue from the county sales tax began dropping in late 2007. But the bulk of its operating budget goes to seemingly untouchable pay and benefits. Most of its workers are represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 758, whose members keep getting nice yearly raises even as the agency contemplates severe cuts in bus service for the public.

The current union

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Skipping salary increases. In the public sector, no less.

There’s a critical school-funding measure riding on Puyallup’s Feb. 9 election, and opponents can’t accuse the administration of the Puyallup School District of insulating themselves from the pain of the recession. This from Superintendent Tony Apostle:

In February 2009, approximately 150 district administrators and central office staff that includes the superintendent, superintendent’s cabinet members, building principals, assistant principals, unrepresented professional/technical staff, and unrepresented confidential executive assistants agreed to freeze their salaries for the current school year (2009-10).

This week, 184 staff members representing aforementioned parties have again voluntarily offered to freeze all salary increases, annual salary step increases and cost

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It’s too soon to put taxes on the table

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Next week, when Gov. Chris Gregoire proposes her spending adjustment for the remainder of the biennium, Washington will see what budget austerity really looks like.

The budget written in the 2009 legislative session was as painful as the state has seen in decades. People suffered. Students were excluded from higher education; poor Washingtonians were frozen out of subsidized health insurance; the state cut back on the supervision of many released criminals.

Since then, revenue projections have continued falling. The result is a projected deficit that now stands at $2.6 billion through mid-2011, assuming no new taxes. Really bad is about to get really worse.
We can’t blame Gov. Chris Gregoire and other Democratic leaders for talking tax increases. The Democratic Party is all about robust state services, and its lawmakers don’t want to preside over the skeletonizing of cherished programs.

All that said, it’s too soon to put taxes on the table.

This whole discussion should be framed by the understanding that tax increases are not friends of economic recovery. That’s especially true of Washington. This state’s revenue base essentially has three legs: property, sales and business taxes. Good luck trying to sell the public on a property tax increase, in this or any other year. That leaves the sales tax, which is already high, and business taxes, which are intrinsically burdensome to employers.

Both of the latter are economic drags. When sales taxes are more than a minor nuisance, less stuff gets sold, less commerce happens. Business taxes, in general, work against private investment and job creation. That’s not to say these taxes aren’t necessary, but there should be no illusion that raising them wouldn’t hurt economic recovery.
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