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Balance the Budget on the Backs of Jerks and Thieves

Saturday, April 30, 2011


The moment one begins to work for the government, that individual becomes the government. And, thus, becomes a potential sacker of people’s rights and liberty. Perhaps nothing exemplifies this concept more than the situation surrounding Providence’s retired firefighters, more than half of whom are collecting elevated disability pensions – tax free.

Half. Elevated.Tax Free.

Even disregarding this clear culture of fraud, for years Rhode Island’s fire departments have contributed to the state’s high tax rates and shriveling private sector. According to a 2007 Providence Journal report, “Nearly every other state in the nation pays less per resident to run its fire departments,” and “on a per capita basis, payrolls alone here outstrip the total cost of operating entire departments in most other states.”

But now, according to a recent Channel 12 report, we also know that “of the 438 firefighter pensions being paid right now, 258 of them are for on-the-job injuries.” Retired Providence firefighters currently collect $29 million each year. More than half of that ($15.5 million) “will be paid out for tax-free pension checks to firefighters hurt on the job.” Channel 12 has also discovered that the “five most lucrative pensions in city government all go to former fire department officials, all of whom retired in the early 1990s, when eight out of 10 of the department's workers were retiring for disabilities.”

Apparently, inflated salaries and the ability to retire and collect taxpayer-funded pensions at age 11 isn’t enough for some of these government employees. The union mentality now runs so deep that they feel entitled to tax-free retirements as well.
But don’t expect any loud proclamations of “greed” from the state’s most vocal progressive activists over this situation.

What To Do

As Providence Mayor Angel Taveras searches for solutions to the city’s monstrous budget deficit, he should address this glaring area of suspected financial fraud before Providence residents, once again, are smacked with another tax increase. The taxpayers should be protected with a probe into the true physical status of all retired Providence firefighters collecting disability pensions.

Who would argue, after all, that this scenario doesn’t warrant enough reasonable suspicion to investigate this entire retired population? Confronted with such dubious statistics, which labor boss would be shallow enough to accuse Taveras of “balancing the budget on the backs of the workers?” Wouldn’t the Mayor just be balancing the budget on the backs of jerks and thieves? Who would guard against an investigation, and defend these people?

Say hello to Providence Fire Union President Paul Doughty, who just several months ago contended, "I think people don't really understand the physical demands that the job has…We have more hazards than any other city in the state, we have more runs than any other city in the state, and the fire engines and ladder trucks are under-staffed according to national standards."

Oh! Clearly Providence firefighters must be near-crippled by the time they retire!

But, as the union head, it is Doughty’s job to act as the most defiant obstacle to common sense solutions to the public debt his organization has helped to amass. Protecting the union’s reputation and interests, Doughty seems to have abandoned his previous defense, and is now lashing out at city officials for causing the phony pension phenomenon: “The city does no housekeeping, no review, other than to have your own doctor submit a statement saying you're still disabled…They sit on their hands and they complain.”
Doughty’s right. How dare city officials assume the integrity of Providence firefighters!

But Doughty is just stating the obvious. Of course Democratic politicians have done nothing. That has been the wink-and-nod arrangement that Democrats and labor officials have been making ever since government employees were allowed to collectively bargain four decades ago. What has ever been the incentive for Democrats to scrutinize the very scoundrels who fund their political campaigns?

The Nature of Government

The fact of the matter is that both union and city officials are to blame for Rhode Island’s fiscal mess – because they are both byproducts of runaway government. Government employees are always in danger of slipping into a crooked disposition simply because they are the government themselves, and are therefore susceptible to governmental tendencies – inefficiency and the abuse of power.

The check on American democracy represented by forbidding public employees to collectively bargain was always wise policy. The moment Democrats reversed this policy in 1966, and made government employees their political allies, it set Rhode Island on an inevitable course to public debt and private poverty.

The taxpayers are the clear victims of Rhode Island’s bloated employment bureaucracies. But good and decent public servants should also be troubled. Not only have their colleagues placed their pension funds in peril, but their longstanding reputations as honorable men and women as well.

It has recently been reported that 59 percent of all Providence firefighter pensions are “for accidental disability.” Speaking of the impact this has on the city’s finances, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare called the situation "unsustainable." Not only is the situation unsustainable, it’s immoral.

So who will stand up for what is right?

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is the chairman of the RI Young Republicans and author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left. 


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