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GUEST COLUMN: Let’s get everyone in the game

I’m a public service employee. I have worked for the state of Minnesota for 26 years. I’m also a member of AFSCME Council 5.

The deficit we find ourselves facing didn’t appear suddenly. Spending down reserves, cutting taxes the banking, stock market and real estate decline created a perfect storm. Public service workers are custodians, social workers, law enforcement personnel, librarians, highway maintenance workers, LPNs, RNs, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, DNR employees, teachers, administrators, drivers license examiners and those who maintain our lakes, our visitors center on South 371. The list goes on and on. We are your neighbors, relatives, members of churches, civic organizations and veterans groups. We sit in the next booth at the local cafe. We are the same as our families and friends.

We share the same concerns as everyone, how do we get out of this mess? We all have tools to bring to the table. Slogans or demoralizing rhetoric will not solve our financial problems.

I would like to share a few facts that seem to get lost in the discussion. We, as public employees, average $38,000/year, the average Minnesota workers make $42,000/year. If we compare education and experience, the public worker makes about 4 percent less than those in the private sector. Our wages stay in our local communities and are spent on necessities not luxuries.

Our state workforce is the 10th leanest and most productive in the nations. Minnesota has 71 public workers for every 10,000 residents. We are tied with Florida in this ratio. We have accepted zeroes four out of the last eight years. We have reduced staffing. There might be 2 percent more in savings we could sneak out by working smarter and becoming more efficient. We, as public workers, are ready to embrace change if we can give workers job security, guaranteeing workers will be given the opportunity to upgrade skills, move resources to the point of service, and flatten organizational hierarchy. This means more folks rowing then shouting instructions. Involve the workers in cost cutting and we will see improved efficiency and service delivery.

Since 2002 the state workforce has declined by 11 percent, AFSCME lost 1,590 members. Government is shrinking in Minnesota. Median income of all Minnesota workers was $65,371 in 2002, now its $57,288. Middle income taxpayers, who I am, are frustrated that we are paying more and getting less.

In our area we have quite a few retirees; this is the truth about our pensions. Public pensions average about $14,000/year while most private pensions are 100 percent employer paid, we pay half of ours. Pensions pay out more than 2.5 billion, add 3.5 billion to the state economy and create 22,500 additional jobs. Now this fact is important, state and local taxes collected on our pension exceed public employer contributions by 80 million/year. In Crow Wing County alone there are 2,961 retirees who have annual benefits of 61.8 million. This includes the teacher’s retirement, PELRA and MSRS. When we lose jobs, when retirements are gone or severely reduced our whole economy suffers.

We all realize this deficit will not go away by itself, but public employees are ready and willing to help. We have already reduced our workforce, taken zeroes for raises and we still continue to provide high quality services to our most vulnerable citizens that are the envy of visitors to our state.

All we ask is everyone gets in the game. The middle class is tapped out. In 2002 the average household paid 11 percent in state and local taxes. Now it is 12.8 percent. The richest 1 percent paid 9 percent in 2002, now it is 8.8 percent. The average income of the richest 1 percent went from $27,551,649 in 2002, to $68,863,833 now. We don’t want to break anyone’s bank, ours included. Middle class families have had the kitchen table discussion and have cut our budgets to the bone. Now we need more revenue.

If all Minnesotans pull together we will be successful, if we fragment and fight or take unreasonable positions, we will fail.

Please Mr. and Mrs. Legislators, consider all options. Neither all cuts nor all taxes will solve the problem. Please find the proper mix for all of us.

JOHN MAGNUSON is an engineer at BRHSC and a member of AFSCME Local 1574.