Can we try to have some perspective?
Take a look at Rhode Island’s Department of Labor website. At the end of April, private sector employment lost 90,000 jobs (around 20%) as a result of the COVID shut down. More jobs were shed in May.
On the public side, 1,700 jobs (2.5%) were lost. In other words, the entire economic impact of COVID was borne by those in the non-government world, while the public sector remained largely shielded.
Fast forward to the budget referendum in South Kingstown. Before any COVID related savings (e.g. busing) are factored in, the current year average pay is $74,000 per FTE in the schools.
That includes everyone from entry level clerical staff, to the highest paid teachers and administrators. In next year’s budget, the average salary increases to $76,300. With 445 employees, the raises come pretty close to $1 million.
Meanwhile, Social Security recipients saw a small 1.6% increase in their benefits, and given the depression-like impact COVID is causing, the 2021 COLA can’t be anything but 0.0%. And the town put in for a 5.1% increase in its spending.
Spending levels in both parts of our local government had crept to unmanageable levels before the pandemic. With the private sector taking the entire impact of the massive gut punch, South Kingstown’s spending increases are simply disrespectful. Any argument that describes the budget alternatives offered in the referendum as “catastrophic” borders on fiscal malfeasance. The alternative budgets don’t even require “cuts” — just holding tight for a year.
When proponents say things like “it is only $70 for the average home,” they miss the point. People have lost their livelihoods, businesses, and their health as a result of COVID. The status quo budget completely ignores those realities. I often hear activists complain about “privilege” and demand “fairness”, and “shared sacrifice.”
Let’s honor those ideals and keep spending flat during this pandemic crisis. It only seems fair.