On KUOW this morning, I said that I agreed with a recent Seattle Times editorial in favor of revisiting the county's policy of automatically giving employees automatic 2-to-6-percent cost-of-living pay increases. (Perhaps I was under the influence. I was filling in for Joni Balter, sitting in her usual chair.) Here's what the Times wrote:
County employees have been living in an altered state, pretending the county has enough money to award employees 2 to 6 percent annual cost-of-living increases even if that cost dropped as it did last year. That makes no sense.

Discussing this year's potential sales-tax increases this morning, I noted that  voters tend to support funding for public safety (most of a 0.2 percent sales-tax increase would pay to retain sheriff's deputies and deputy prosecutors).

One big caveat, though: Support for a tax increase could fall apart if voters learn that one reason for the budget shortfall in Sheriff Sue Rahr's department is because the deputies' contract gives them a guaranteed five percent wage increase every year. That's the case even in years, like this past one, when inflation is essentially nonexistent, meaning that the cost of living has barely inched gone up. (In the Seattle metro area, the consumer price index has risen just 0.2 percent this year, and just 0.3 percent last year.)

The bottom line: When contracts are up for renegotiation, those automatic increases have got to go.

County employees tend to get mad when journalists point out their ever-growing wages and superior ("Cadillac") benefits. But the reason journalists tend to grate at those things is that, unlike county workers, we don't get "cost-of-living" increases when the cost of living doesn't increase. In fact, unlike county workers, many of us—those who still have jobs—have taken wage cuts. Unlike county workers, whose "furloughs" this year were offset by equivalent higher wages, when we take a furlough, we don't get paid.

Unions are a great tool for negotiating better working conditions, benefits, and wages. But when they negotiate contracts so generous they're unsustainable, they need to admit that things are out of balance. Voters have shown the willingness to repeatedly raise our own taxes to pay for government services, but we need to know that government employees are willing to make sacrifices, too.
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