One of the more popular things for various elected government officials and conservative pundits to do is to rail against the “bloated” government workforce. I see it all the time. The problem is that none of them ever really talks about what they mean by “bloated.” It’s one thing to point at a total number of government employees, talk about the various costs associated with them, and say that it needs to be cut. One can always find an example of someone who’s paid a lot of money for a job that doesn’t seem to quite match what they’re doing to make the point. It’s another to point to specific government functions and the employees who perform them and say “this is unnecessary and needs to be cut.”
I started thinking about this while listening to all the posturing coming out of Albany during the budget battles. Politicians on both sides of the aisle were making strong statements, and goodness knows, our governor was on a tear about it. But at the same time, I also noticed that they all tended to be scanty on the details. Closing some of the many prisons that have been built? Nope. Deciding that we didn’t need the state university medical centers with all their high-priced doctors and staffs? Nope. Cutting back the administration and legislative staffs in Albany? Nope. Cut the people who are out there working on the roads, enforcing the environmental laws, ensuring food safety, or doing all the other local “on the ground” stuff? Oh hell yes!
It’s that sort of thing that gets noticed locally, but rarely by the state or national press. It’s easy to rail against bloated workforces when said workforces aren’t near a major media center or a capital, and not in danger of being cut. Everyone is in favor of “law and order,” without considering the number of people needed to run a prison. People don’t want to think that state university medical centers – and associated medical schools – cost money. They’re not on the list for cuts, but they make up a good percentage of the state workforce. No one thinks of that as “bloat.” At the same time, they never think of other things as “bloat” when it affects them, or the consequences of those “cuts” until it does.
Once again, I’m seeing first-hand the results of the cuts to the “bloated” workforce. A local forest ranger just announced his retirement. He won’t be replaced, his area of responsibility will be split between two other rangers and added to their current responsibilities. The areas they all had are larger than they were a decade ago – because previous cuts were made and the areas were added to them. A few other people have retired recently or announced their retirements. They haven’t been, or won’t be replaced either. Tourists may notice that certain things aren’t being done this year that were done in the past. There’s not enough people to do those things anymore.
Yes, the conservatives should be jumping for joy. The “bloated” state workforce is being cut. That roads aren’t being repaired, trails and camping sites are in poor shape, and longer waits for services are now the order of the day is just a small price. Just don’t get lost in the woods, would you? The ones who would look for you are too busy to respond anytime soon. That “bloated” state workforce isn’t bloated anymore around here.