Monday, February 11, 2008
“What, me worry?”
FOR MANY YEARS FAIRNESS IN TAXES HAS SPOKEN AGAINST AND HAS WARNED OF THE DESTRUCTIVE IMPACT THAT THE UNREASONABLE BUDGET INCREASES WOULD HAVE ON OUR COMMUNITY. UNFORTUNATELY THOSE WARNINGS WERE MET WITH CYNICISM AND SARCASM YEAR AFTER YEAR. THE FOLLOWING IS A LETTER WRITTEN BY JIM TWEED, A FIT BOARD MEMBER, AND WAS PUBLISHED IN THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER.
“What, me worry?” I’m beginning to feel like the clueless face of Alfred E. Neuman smiling out from the cover of “Mad” magazine. At least that’s how the taxpayers of Ocean City must be seen by some. The millions of dollars in increases in pensions, health care costs, and contractual salary obligations are being treated as if it’s news. It’s only new if you have not been paying attention for the last 5 years. There have been voices warning us about this for at least that amount of time. They have routinely been dismissed as “pockets of negativity,” “angry,” or some other disparaging remark. After Ocean City’s auditor, Leon Costello’s presentation last Tuesday, those “weirdo’s” now look like biblical prophets.
I wonder if anything will really change. Some will look for people to blame. That’s much easier than finding a solution. It’s also a waste of time. The leader we elected under whose watch all those contracts were negotiated has been gone for more than a year. We even named a new Public Works building in his honor. We’re the ones that look stupid, not him.
It’s the choices we make in the future that will make a difference, not the ones we made in past. But who’s going to step up to make the “tough decisions” that Mr. Costello warned us about. It’s not the professionals’ jobs to do that. They just give us the facts. Our elected leaders decide what to do with them.
Here’s my prediction. No one from the Council or the Administration will step up. Councilmen have learned that those who try the hardest get burned the most. If you try to even talk about the roots of a problem Council chambers will fill with union members, testimony of tearful tales will be touted if meaningful efficiencies are proposed, and Councilmen will be inundated by phone calls from those who don’t want their rice bowls even looked at too closely, let alone touched. Why will this happen? Because it works. The easiest thing to manipulate is peoples’ fears. Of course Councilmen are going to be persuaded that the public doesn’t want any changes in public safety. They’re the ones who show up. The rest of Ocean City is too busy, too tired, too old, or too scared to attend Council meetings. They suffer quietly, maybe show up on Election Day, hope for the best, and go home. After the election they are the easiest ones to ignore.
It’s been over a quarter of a century since “defined benefit” pension systems began to be replaced with “defined contribution” systems. Yet government employees are still on a different playing field than those in the private sector. They still contribute a fraction towards their own health care plans compared with the rest of us. Why? Is it because they work harder than you? Where in the private sector do you ever see anyone stand around to watch someone else work? Is it because their job is more dangerous? Tell that to a soldier serving in Iraq for much less money.
If there’s someone out there, either on Council or the Administration, who’s willing to sacrifice their popularity in order to make tough choices please step forward.