Ripon resident Steve Mlodzik wrote a powerful letter to the editor last week. He told of a visitor to Badger Boys State at Ripon College telling demonstrating public employees to “Get a job!”

Mlodzik lamented how that flippant comment ignored the personal sacrifices he has made as a corrections officer at a mental health facility.

Certainly people in all occupations have their own tales of woe to tell about the professional and personal costs their jobs have exacted. But Mlodzik’s explanation was a reminder that regardless of how you feel about the efforts of Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans to emasculate public unions’ ability to bargain, the affect weighs heavily on the backs of good, conscientious people who, given their valuable and necessary work, are deserving of more respect than they’ve been given, even before Wisconsin became polarized in February.

At the end of his letter, Mlodzik asks: “Why are only 15 percent of the citizens of Wisconsin (public employees) responsible?”

Easy answer is that Wisconsin public employees bear the burden because, together, their wages and benefits comprise a major portion of the state budget. The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that in 2007-08 (most current data available), state and local wages and salaries alone — excluding pension contributions and other benefits — comprised 38 percent of state and local current spending.

Walker required concessions in employees’ health care and pension benefits to generate $300 million in savings to the state over the next two years. Effective last week Wednesday, they must contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward their pensions, and also pay 12.6 percent of their health insurance premiums....

State residents on both sides are angry, resentful and eager to cast blame elsewhere.

But Mlodzik’s query remains: Why make a few pay for the sins of all?

Afterall, we all are to blame for this. While many in the private sector have lost jobs, had benefits slashed and in other ways paid the price of the great recession long before Walker was elected, all of us had better pause from pointing at each other to observe that we have a couple of fingers aimed squarely at ourselves.

Want to know why the state and federal government spend beyond their means, only to slap up public workers when the going gets tough? Look in the mirror. Then smile.

Good. You look happy. That’s what those who control the purse-strings want. They need to give you sufficient goodies to get themselves reelected. Our republican democracy is flawed that way. It doesn’t reward those who say “no,” “not now,” “never” or “we can’t afford it.”

And so we become ever-dependent on a government that we resent when it can’t keep what we view as promises.

We are over-entitled, over tax-breaked, over-subsidized, over-credited, over-exempted, over-deducted, over-loopholed and over-ignorant about what our state and federal governments are doing to turn us into over-dependent zombies. ...

The state Department of Workforce Development recently notified businesses with taxable payrolls exceeding $25,000 of a special assessment that will be used to pay interest on the state’s $1.3 billion federal unemployment insurance loan received by Wisconsin after it exhausted funds in February 2009 used to pay unemployment benefits. Here in Ripon, larger employers who already have been paying into the system will have to pick up the tab by paying in even more.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin is No. 1 in the nation on delivering benefits, with 58 percent of the unemployed covered, according to a report from ProPublica, a national nonprofit investigative journalism organization.

So who’s to follow the “lost generation”? According to 2008 birth statistics provided by the state Department of Health Services, 45.6 percent were Medicaid babies, meaning their parents for whatever reason didn’t have health insurance or the means to pay for their birth.

Some suggest we pay for our entitled society by raising taxes. Perhaps we could start by closing loopholes and asking more to share in the tax burden.

But what percent of U.S. households pay no federal income taxes?

Try 45 percent for 2010, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

... Meanwhile in Wisconsin, past governors — with our tacit approval — have spared us some tough budget realities by paying property tax credits one year and funding them the next while building new prisons and gutting the rainy-day fund (Tommy Thompson); using tobacco-settlement dollars (Scott McCallum); raiding the state transportation and medical-malpractice funds, using federal stimulus dollars and raising taxes and fees (Jim Doyle).

Who’s at fault for government’s chronic inability to budget responsibly? Look in the mirror. ... Mlodzik’s right. Far more than 15 percent of us are responsible for this mess. — Tim Lyke

To read the entire editorial, see the July 7, 2011 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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