Put Reins On Those Who Reign Over Spending

2 June 2004

Craig Cantoni preceded this essay with the following:

The Arizona Republic had the largest circulation drop in the nation of 8.1%, although it serves the second-fastest growing state in the nation. At the same time, hardly a week goes by without someone writing me and saying that although they love the libertarian (really classical liberal) themes of my weekly column (for which I accept no money) and the conservative themes of Bob Robb’s column, they are cancelling their subscriptions in the face of the overwheming number of stories and editorials favoring increases in taxes and government spending. Is there a connection between the two facts? Selfishly, I want circulation to increase and have written articles for other publications and Internet sites detailing the lack of balance in news stories in the establishment press on social, economic and tax issues, in the hope that someone at the paper would notice and respond accordingly. My latest is below. As a consultant to a newspaper that has increased circulation and profits considerably, I understand the demographics facing newspapers, including the fact that young people are not reading newspapers as much as older people, but that makes it even more shortsighted to disenfranchise older readers, many of whom are conservative.

Then, about an hour later, I received the following:

About an hour ago I had sent an e-mail offering my take on the Arizona Republic’s 8% drop in circulation and attaching an article of mine on the formula used by the establishment media to cover taxes and government spending. (The e-mail and article are posted at the end of this.)

Since then, I have picked up the Arizona Republic and read the front-page story on cities renewing pay raises. The theme of the piece is that city workers have had to endure cuts in their cost-of-living (COLA) increases this fiscal year, the poor dears. The story proves my earlier point as follows:

First, the 40 column-inch story only quoted city employees, city managers and a union representative. It quoted no one with an opposing view, no taxpayers who are fed up with high taxes, and no local compensation consultants (The head of my compensation consulting affiliate and I have over 50 combined years of experience in setting pay rates and designing pay plans). I had said in my earlier e-mail and article that the formula followed by the establishment press, including the Republic, is to quote tax takers (government employees and other recipients of taxes) much more than taxpayers, who are often not quoted at all.

Second, the story implied that city employees have suffered without pay increases, yet the accompanying table says the opposite. For example, according to the table, Tempe employees received a 3.5% COLA increase and 5% ”other” increase in the 2002-2003 fiscal year. Then, when increases were cut back the next fiscal year, they received no COLA increases and 1 to 5% ”other” increases. I don’t have any clients that increased wages by 8% last year. Moreover, planned increases by my clients for this year range from 1 to 5% and none of the increases will be COLA increases. In fact, a new client, a bank president, wants a new pay plan and said that he doesn’t want cost-of-living increases and will not grant merit increases unless both the employee and the bank perform well. In other words, what is a standard pay practice in industry is seen as draconian by city employees and their cheerleaders in the press.

Third, the article did not mention that the budgets of most cities have increased faster than inflation and population growth over the last decade. Nor did it compare the pay and benefits of government employees with private-sector employees. Coincidentally, I published an article yesterday on this subject. It is pasted below. At the end of the article I’ve pasted the e-mail and article that I sent out about an hour ago.

What the hell are they teaching in journalism school?

Journey From Naivet and Apathy to Taxpayer Rage
by Craig J. Cantoni
May 31, 2004

My father-in-law recently assisted me in my lifelong journey from the naivete and apathy of my youth about government spending to my taxpayer rage of today.

Having once performed community service on the board of the housing authority in his small hometown in rural Pennsylvania, he recently sent me the pay scales of the full-time staff of the authority, knowing that I have 30 years of experience in evaluating the worth of jobs and establishing pay rates and benefit levels in the private sector. He also knows that I have written columns about how recipients of government housing assistance rip off the system, and he shares my concern over high taxes and unbridled government spending.

It is no surprise that housing authority employees gorge themselves at the public trough as much as government employees from other agencies. But there is nothing like seeing the disgusting feeding frenzy firsthand in one small corner of Leviathan to understand why the government is obese, likely to get even fatter and unlikely to ever go on a diet, regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats are in office.

It’s bad enough that the recipients of public housing often live in housing that is nicer than the housing of taxpayers, as I saw when my father-in-law gave me a tour of the new public housing in his hometown. But it is rubbing salt in the wound to see that housing authority executives and employees get better pay and benefits than taxpayers. And it is like sticking a blunt needle in the wound to see housing authority executives, both Democrats and Republicans, come to my hometown of Scottsdale from colder climes for taxpayer-paid junkets, er, housing conferences, during the winter.

Please excuse my screaming. It comes from the realization that there is so much vested interest on both sides of the political aisle in maintaining the status quo of so many rice bowls that there is no hope of reforming the system or reducing the per-household cost of government from the current $24,000—especially with the establishment media changing its role decades ago from government watchdog to government lapdog.

I could find no expose or critical news story of housing authority pay and benefits in the first 10 pages of a Google search on the subject. Clearly, the establishment media is sleeping soundly in its master’s lap as Pulitzer Prize-winning material about government waste goes unreported. Tellingly, the media wolf pack wakes up and howls and growls over corporate fraud and obscene CEO pay, which is a tiny morsel in a huge doggy dish in comparison to government fraud and obscenities, especially the Ponzi schemes of Social Security and Medicare and the nonexistent Social Security trust fund. The pathetic pooch-like press is like a dog that salivates over a dog biscuit while ignoring a two-pound porterhouse steak.

Other important distinctions between corporate and governmental theft escape canine-brained reporters. For example, shareholders were not coerced to buy Enron stock, but taxpayers are coerced to hand over 15% of their pay in FICA taxes. Worse, thanks to a form of child abuse at the hands of the government, today’s retirees are sending much of their entitlement bill to today’s children.

It doesn’t take much research to determine the depth of the housing trough. For example, the starting pay for a maintenance laborer in the Dayton Housing Authority is $13.32 an hour. Munch, munch.

What are the qualifications of a maintenance laborer? A high school degree or GED, and the ability ”to read and comprehend simple instructions,” as well as the ability to ”add, subtract, multiply and divide.” Granted, that leaves out many graduates of government schools, but my wife, who is a human resources executive for a national apartment company, says the housing pay is about 40% higher than private-sector pay for comparable work. Belch!

Benefits are even richer. Unlike the private-sector, most housing authorities have pension plans instead of 401(k) plans, fully paid medical insurance, 13 paid holidays, 22 days of vacation after 20 years, and the ability to accrue 12 sick days a year and then to cash in the unused days.

I’ll need a sick day after writing this.

Of course, the richer pay and benefits are warranted, given that government employees work harder than private-sector employees. Just kidding. The real reason for the higher pay and benefits are statutes requiring prevailing union rates. It’s not a coincidence that union membership has plummeted in the private sector, where competition prevails, and skyrocketed in the public sector, where competition is nonexistent.

Now that you know why I’m in a rage over taxes and government spending, maybe you can tell me why most Americans remain naive and apathetic.

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Mr. Cantoni is an author, columnist and founder of Honest Americans Against Legal Theft (HAALT). He can be reached at ccan2@aol.com

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