published Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Tennessee-style austerity would help Washington, D.C.

What should a household do when its income sharply declines, for whatever reason?

The wise course of action is to reduce spending on luxuries and other discretionary purchases -- from new cars to vacations to fancy electronic gizmos. The focus should instead be on ensuring as much as possible that there is enough money for necessities.

That should also be the focus of a responsible government when its revenue drops, and that is a principle we have fortunately seen displayed here in Tennessee.

You may have read recently that since the early days of the recession, the size of the full-time workforce for state government in Tennessee has dropped by about 9 percent.

Why? Did Tennessee governors and lawmakers just have a strange urge to lay off government employees?

Of course not. We have no doubt that the job cuts were painful -- primarily to those who were laid off but also to those who had to make the layoff decisions.

Nevertheless, Tennessee and Tennesseans believe in balancing our state budgets and in living within our means. That necessitated reductions in the size of state government.

In consequence, the number of full-time Tennessee government employees dropped from more than 47,000 in the 2007-2008 budget to fewer than 43,000 in the 2012 budget that took effect July 1, the Times Free Press reported recently. (Those numbers exclude Department of Transportation and higher education employees.)

Have those cuts been easy? Certainly not.

As Robert O'Connell, the executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, noted: "Having fewer state employees is rough. Fewer employees mean fewer services."

But when the money just isn't there to sustain the same level of services, the state has a duty to tighten its belt.

That is a lesson that has been almost completely lost, however, on the federal government. The size of the federal workforce has not been shrinking but growing -- fast -- since late 2007.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed out recently that the federal workforce has grown by a stunning 12 percent since December 2007 -- while total U.S. payroll employment has fallen by roughly 5 percent over the same period of time.

We cannot see how that has benefited our weak economy. Rather, it has saddled taxpayers with the burden to pay for the generous compensation packages of hundreds of thousands more federal workers.

That is alarming because the government does not actually create wealth. Money for government salaries must be removed from the private sector, where it might otherwise create productive employment, or it must be borrowed.

So the growth of government worsens the economic circumstances that are already creating so much hardship for so many Americans.

If Washington had exercised early on in the recession the sound -- though admittedly difficult -- financial principles that we see in Tennessee, we might be witnessing some real, nationwide economic progress by now.

As it is, we are sadly witnessing bigger government, with no end in sight.

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Hmm, since December 2007. I wonder, does your number include the temporary employees for the US Census? Did you remember to factor them out? And what's the per capita employment level? Did you know that the Obama administration employs fewer people per capita than Reagan? I don't think their workload is less. Especially in the military. Even Reagan didn't ask them to fight two wars at once.

Also if Government spending doesn't create wealth, why do so many companies get wealthy off government contracts? It's not the public sector workers, compared to their private sector equivalents, they get paid about 20-25 percent less. Except maybe the Congressman, but I'm hard pressed finding an equivalent job in shoveling horse crap while proclaiming it is gold. Still, your short-sighted assumptions about government spending fail to recognize just how many investments the government makes that do lead to greater productivity and economic activity. Strange, though, since you seem able to praise them when you think they're local, and you can't ignore them.

December 27, 2011 at 10:01 a.m.
acerigger said...

According to Allan Holmes of Wired Workplace,There were fewer federal workers in 2009 than in 1990, 1980 and 1970. Now take a closer look at the OPM table. Much of the growth, understandably, occurred in Homeland Security agencies, increasing from 70,000 to 180,000 - a jump of 110,000. Justice Department jobs went from 98,000 to 113,000 -- more than 15,000 new jobs added. (Again, crime and more Homeland Security related.) Jobs at the Veterans Department increased from 220,000 to 297,000 -- that's 77,000 more federal workers. Again, a result of Homeland Security, or rather staffing up to take care of thousands of veterans coming home from two wars. And there's a lot of information technology jobs in there. It helps to understand what tax dollars are paying for so that people have some perspective of what they are buying - as in this case homeland security and wars. After 9/11, the public was demanding the federal government do something. It did -- and it took people to manage it. That puts much of the criticism leveled at the federal government into perspective.

December 27, 2011 at 3:11 p.m.
Plato said...

"Tennessee and Tennesseans believe in balancing our state budgets and in living within our means"

We also belief in obeying the law.

The author is attempting to claim moral superiority for our state when in reality, every state in the union except Vermont has a balanced budget law and is therefore prohibited by law to incur deficit spending.

It's not too hard to layoff part of the work force when it becomes apparent that it would be illegal to keep them.

December 27, 2011 at 11:53 p.m.
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