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That is a generalization that often is not true. I know people who work in several state agencies where pay scales significantly lag the private sector. The tradeoff used to be job security, a defined-benefit pension, and fringe benefit packages that were superior to the private sector. Many of those advantages of state employment are now vanishing. The result is a lot of state employees are leaving for the private sector. One agency I am familiar with with has lost most of its best, hard working, experienced and knowledgeable employees in the last 18 months. That does not make for good government.
Having spent time in both the public and private sector, I have seen the good and bad sides of both. I would be that last person to defend the state's moribund personnel system, but I also know that lagging salaries and frequently incompetent politically-appointed agency heads are causing some of the best and brightest employees "down in the trenches" to leave government. The frequent lack of competent management combined with silly work rules is also the reason that many agencies are overstaffed and underworked. Since I have spent most of my working career at the management level, I usually can spot incompetence in management pretty quickly. There is a lot of it in both the public and private sectors these days, and I believe a lot of our economic troubles can be traced to that.
I believe there should be a healthy debate about exactly how much government we need, and I personally believe that we generally have too much of it now. That said, I also believe that the government we do decide we need should have the best and brightest people working in it. Those people can not be attracted by across-the-board type salary or benefit cuts that make government unable to attract those kinds of quality employees. That is false economy that will wind up costing taxpayers dearly. Unfortunately, that is usually the kind of budget-cutting that politicians favor because it avoids taking that hard look at what governmental functions and agencies are really needed and what is just fluff and bull****--that latter usually with some strong special interest constituency with whom politicians want to curry favor.
I would add one last thing: There is a lot of built-in inefficiency in Colorado state government because Colorado's State Constitution is far too easy to amend. This has resulted in a whole lot of poorly written and poorly thought out amendments that create inefficient regulatory nightmares, conflicting constitutional and statutory provisions that cause never-ending litigation, agencies that wind up with conflicting mandates and overlapping regulations, and other such "niceties." The State Legislature can certainly enact law that can cause all of the aforementioned problems, but at least they can fix some of the problems in subsequent legislative sessions. Constitutional provisions, once enacted, become very difficult and expensive to change, and continue to cause problems for years or even decades after their enactment. It should be instructive that the state with the most easily-amended State Constitution--California--also has one of the most inefficient, costly, and ineffective state governments in the United States. Colorado should learn something from that--but, as in so many areas of it affairs, Colorado seems determined to make all of the same mistakes that California has made. Dumb us.
There is a HUGE difference between the problems NY faces and those of CO. NY, whether you know it or not, has a system that is wrought with corruption and nepotism to an extent that a movie starring Al Pachino wouldn't do it justice. Having spent the majority of my life in NY, let me share with you a few comparisons:
The Dump: when you visit a landfill in NY, there are at least three guys sitting in chairs who essentially direct traffic TO THE APPROPRIATE DUMPSTER. Not one of them moves and they point to the dumpster that you should throw your garbage in. They are marked METAL, WOOD and PLASTICS. It doesn't take three guys to point me to the right dumpster. These guys probably make $65k each annually without benefits, so there is roughly $240k pointing to a dumpster. Now this occurs at every landfill I have visited in NY. Contrast this to CO: there is one person at the weigh station who instructs you where to go after taking your money. This is as it should be.
Building Department: Let's say you want to build a garage on your property. Just like all the other county and state run offices, you have to visit their office and submit paper work. Here's how it goes in NY: Walk into the building/planning department and wait in a long line. After finally getting to the front of the line, you are asked to go across the hall and get some piece of information from that set of folks then come back and wait on line again. When you get to the second set of folks, there are three or four of them sitting at a desk with one computer. The one in front of the computer looks up your property and writes down the needed information on a yellow sticky note. Another $240k annually to write on a sticky note. Here's the question: If they are all on the same computer network, why couldn't the lady I waited for in the first place just pull the information up? Corruption. That's why? This is one of the primary reasons NY is so expensive a place to live. Taxes on LI average about $10k for a $400k house. Much of that goes to pay for town/city/state workers who are only on the job because their friend/cousin/brother works there. Think I'm kidding? Ask anyone from downstate NY. Now that you have submitted your paperwork, wait three months and beg for the permit.
Let's take a look at CO now: I walk into the planning department and there is no line. The young lady at the desk calls a reviewer and they help me fill out the paperwork and print off a copy of my deed right there. After filling out the paperwork and submitting the plans, I receive a few phone calls and 6 business days later, they say "come get your permit". This is the type of efficiency one should expect when dealing with those in charge of the entire process.
These are just two examples, but I predict that CO is perhaps 80-100 years from experiencing the financial stress placed on the system as NY experiences today due to overstaffing and overpaying the over-staffed.
The real problem in NY, beyond the corruption is the really high cost of living coupled with the need to pay qualified workers enough to live in the areas they serve. Take teachers for instance. They cannot survive on $45k annually for that equals their mortgage and taxes alone. Everyone says "I don't make $100k" but what they fail to realize is that it costs $50k net just to pay your mortgage, utilities, taxes and insurance in their school district. CO is a long way from these numbers and rightfully so.
Lastly, a comparison made today on wages will of course show a good margin between those of the private market and state employees due to the economic issues we have faced as a country. The private sector has seen a real contraction in jobs, growth and pay, so a much higher caliber of worker is currently available at a lower annual salary. Frankly, if this survey were done before the collapse of real institutions like Washington Mutual and 37 other banks this year, this discussion would not be taking place.
We're in uncharted waters as a country and any attempt to point at one area of the State budget has to be seen for the smoke screen it is. The question remains: what are they drawing attention away from?
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