“Public Employees Get Free Ride” is the supposedly clever headline in the Metro section today, and the rest of the article isn’t much better. The gist: taxpayers are paying for some downtown public employees transit passes.
You know what? Taxpayers pay not only for that, but the public employee’s dental insurance, medical insurance and I would guess, life insurance and disability policies. Taxpayers are paying for public employees entire salaries! You know why? They are public employees.
I happen to be one taxpayer happy to contribute my probably three cents per year towards Joe Public Employee’s All-Zone Trimet pass. As far as I’m concerned, 80% of the people working downtown should have their employers subsidize the full price of their TriMet passes. Our downtown was purposely designed to be gotten to easily by public transportation. Why shouldn’t government lead the way by adding the benefit of a bus pass to the benefits available to the average public employee?
What gets me about articles like this, is that you never see its obverse about the business world. How about this sample headline: “WalMart customers subsidize WalMart executives’ five billion dollar fleet of corporate jets.” Businesses waste all kinds of money on things that I find unnecessary. The redecoration of executive offices being right up there with the inability by said executives to take commercial flights. But when business spends money wantonly, it is okay, because they need to spend the money to run their businesses efficiently, and besides, it is none of “the public’s” business because we don’t subsidize it.
But we do. We buy their product. You can’t tell me that some amount of pennies per item at WalMart doesn’t go to support WalMart executives’ travel habits. And you can’t tell me that business doesn’t receive public money. They do. From tax breaks, to zoning changes to build their business, to out-and-out bailouts for failing “essential” companies, we all pay.
The view in the US seems to be the following: taxes are squandered on superfluous items requested by overpaid employees who do nothing for their bloated salaries and taxpayer subsidized medical insurance. There is a huge disconnect, it is as if no one can see that the minuscule amount they pay in taxes actually gives them back amazing things, like infrastructure, social services police and fire departments and yes, transit.
A few years ago, unable to find a job, I took a “public employee” position in Washington County. I made just over $9.00 per hour and took transit an hour each way to get to my job. I paid for my transit pass myself, which was just over 5% of my monthly budget. My office was less than a mile from the Max line, serviced by three buses and I was the only employee in my sixteen person office who took public transportation to work. Every morning and evening I walked across a vast expanse of empty parking lot that was available for free to all employees, but cost visitors to park. Often, I wondered how much of a benefit this free parking cost, and why no one was throwing me any money for not taking up a space. I know why, of course, but it still made me mad.
Including TriMet passes in downtown public employees benefits package is a good deal for the employees and a good deal for the taxpayers. It’s not a free ride.