Public servants’ importance being lost in today’s partisan environment
Public servant, civil servant, state and federal employee, municipal worker, whatever you want to call them as a group, these are the people protecting the nation, preserving law and order, defending our environment, and educating the next generation. In today’s highly partisan climate, these public servants are becoming targets of the budget cutting frenzy and described as drains on society, instead of being recognized for their invaluable contributions to the nation, to states, and to our communities.
The decision to go into public service is the decision to help build the nation’s strength and future prosperity but forgo profit seeking in private industry. These public workers know they will never get to take part in a lucrative IPO, they won’t strike it rich by inventing the next big thing, and they won’t ever have million dollar bonuses at an investment firm. Instead, public servants work in a career they are passionate about that helps their community and earn wages and benefits that afford stability and comfort for them and their families.
Perhaps this is why Republicans have ramped up their war on public servants: there can possibly be nothing more antithetical to the Right’s worship of profiteering and industry than people who forsake that for a career serving the people and our communities. It is astounding to see conservative commentators blast public servants as being greedy and selfish as these pundits support tax breaks for billionaires that then require cuts in important community programs. It is appalling to see Republican politicians blame public servants for the state and federal budget crises.
Public servants aren’t asking to be paid millions. When they entered their careers, they knew what they were getting: how many teachers have you heard say, “The pay isn’t great, but the benefits are good and I get to do something I love.” Theirs is a career of doing something they can be passionate about and that helps the community, with some trade-offs such as stability of income instead of high wages. If any of the variables were changed, these same people would possibly not enter their professions. Do we want people to not see educating as a viable career choice?
If the current war on public servants is successful, we as a nation will lose. Fewer and fewer people will go into teaching and fewer will consider careers in law enforcement or public services like firefighting. In these areas, we should be looking at ways to get the best and brightest into these careers, not punishing current public servants and dissuading new entrants. It is already difficult to find enough skilled educators to teach our children, policies making the profession any less attractive will spell disaster for future generations.
Wisconsin’s recent law to alter teachers’ contracts is just the tip of the iceberg in conservative state policies across the nation seeking to balance budgets on the backs of public servants. Many other states are looking to enact similar measures to take advantage of the Right’s recent victories. These states are looking to win the race to the bottom and the states that do not follow the trend will win in the long-term.
Each state holds a monopoly on employment options for its teachers. Until now, the teachers unions offered one of the only protection for teachers from changes in the political winds that would make public servants an easy target for budget cuts. Without this bargaining chip, teachers will be forced to seek out other markets for their skills that are more attractive: the only other market is outside their state. As educators look at other states, they will be drawn to those that did not foolishly undermine contracts with public servants.
Colorado faces similar budget and political pressures to look at slashing pay and benefits for educators. This is a defining moment for the state: will it realize the importance of education or will it cave to the agenda of anti-education and pro-industry groups? Will it advance policies that would drive skilled educators elsewhere to find reasonable compensation or will it advance policies that will keep Colorado’s education system a success now and into the future?
We all owe a lot to public servants, who forgo the world of corporate profit in favor of careers that benefit our state and communities. Teachers have helped build Colorado’s well-educated and successful communities. Police and other public servants keep our communities healthy, safe, and thriving. It is sad that it only takes a budget problem for all this to be forgotten. These Coloradans deserve our thanks and they deserve to know that we will support them as they have supported us.
What we need is for our politicians to stand up and say, “Public servants are not to blame for our budget crisis. Educators are vital to our success and we should work harder to encourage more people into this profession and not dissuade them from doing so. All public employees are vital to our success and should not be villainized in an effort to distract from the difficult tasks ahead.”