It’s a tough year for public employees but no tougher than for their counterparts in the private sector.
On Tuesday, Lawrence city commissioners considered the possibility of laying off employees to balance their 2011 budget. At a negotiating session on Wednesday, representatives for teachers in the Lawrence school district received a compensation proposal that included almost $500,000 to help cover increased health insurance costs but no salary increases. Budget cuts already have forced layoffs and a salary freeze at Kansas University, and Douglas County will face similar budget challenges.
The situation is unfortunate, but it is a fact of life, not just for employees whose salaries are paid by taxpayers, but also for employees of private businesses. Like all of the government and educational entities listed above, most businesses are trying to do the same amount of work with fewer employees. They know they are asking more of those employees, but they can’t afford to give them a raise to recognize their efforts.
It’s disappointing that local teachers may need to take their increased health care contribution and get by on the same salaries they had this year. The important work they do justifies a higher salary, but when the district is having to cut programs and lay off personnel to balance the budget, flat salaries may be the only choice. The district should do what it can in other areas, such as health insurance and planning time for teachers and administrators working on the coming shift of sixth- and ninth-graders to middle schools and high schools.
Preliminary city budget figures don’t include any salary increases, but specific negotiations with groups like the police department and fire and medical personnel haven’t begun. Again, what the city can afford to pay probably won’t reflect the level of services these people provide. Cutting personnel in emergency services can be a matter of safety; flat salaries may be the preferable option.
Government entities are having to make difficult choices about salaries, layoffs, furloughs and benefits, but they are the same choices being faced by private businesses in the current economy. Mayor Mike Amyx’s heart is in the right place when he pledges to fight any attempt to lay off city workers, but Commissioner Lance Johnson also is right when he says the city isn’t immune from the economic situation that private businesses face.
Even if they tighten their belts, city and county government may be seeking modest tax increases for next year’s budget. State funding dictates that Kansas University and the Lawrence schools will have to maintain their operations as best they can on reduced budgets.
We hope the situation eases soon, but at least for this year, public employees negotiating their salary packages need to understand that the money for raises may simply not be there this year.