Tuesday, March 08, 2005 | Short is the public memory and fickle is its thankfulness toward public employees. After 9-11 firefighters and police were honored heroes for whom the public could not do enough in recognition of the risks they take every day to protect our health and safety without regard to the size of their paycheck. What is the proper price to pay to someone who protects your life and property or saves the life of your child, spouse, parent, neighbor, friend, or fellow citizen?

Proposal to eliminate the defined pension plan

Unfortunately, our municipal migraine of a financial crisis has triggered mass municipal memory loss. Yesterday’s heroes are now today’s chumps to be cut down to size. The political winds have shifted. Today public employees are demonized as over-compensated, union card carrying, selfish public enemies who must be threatened and beaten down to get them to share the burden to fix the city budget.

Share the burden

Neither Mayor Murphy nor the San Diego Chamber of Commerce nor the San Diego Taxpayers Association are offering to share the pain, and they don’t even want the visitors from Houston, Chicago or Peoria to share the burden. They all refused to support a meager 2.5 point increase in the transient-occupancy tax to bring it up to the national average of 13 percent. This was money pledged for immediate needs of the police and fire departments.

City Employees Are Part of the Solution

At one time, a civil service career was noble employment to aspire to as a job which served the community. While it didn’t make you rich, it at least provided some security for you in your retirement years. With the adoption of a defined contribution pension plan and the prospect of a miserly, two tiered municipal pension system, economic security will be a thing of the past. With the demise of the national manufacturing base, to what other careers should teachers, city planners, sanitation workers, librarians, firefighters, police officers aspire? Poker player? American Idol contestant? Day trader? Real estate speculator? Wal-Mart greeter?

Until recently I lived with an optimism and confidence that the arc of history was one of struggle, progress and justice. Our city is on the precipice of an historical change in the social contract which will foster an ethos where neighbor denies neighbor, employer denies employee and private interests deny community interests unless we re-evaluate the direction in which we are moving.

Uncertainty for Municipal Workers

Lowell T. Waxman is a municipal employee for the city of San Diego where as a librarian he manages a neighborhood library. He is a 30-year resident of San Diego.

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