Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick of Johnson County recently said out loud what too many elected officials foolishly think across the nation.
“Government employees produce nothing,” the Stilwell Republican told The Wichita Eagle. “They’re a net consumer. And you got that cost forever and ever and ever because they’re on the (state pension) plan, they’re on all the government insurance and everything.”
The government-worker-as-parasite theme is a handy cliché for politicians.
For instance, Gov. Sam Brownback and his band of true believers don’t seem too worried that their ill-advised and costly tax cuts mean more than $700 million may have to be eliminated from the budget in the next 18 months or so.
The sharp shortfall will badly damage the future of the state if it can’t adequately invest in K-12 schools, higher-education systems, law enforcement, highways or social service programs.
The biggest problem with Merrick’s mean-spirited comments and those made by other government-bashing politicians is that they ignore reality.
After criticism of Merrick emerged early this week, state and local government workers — including police officers, firefighters and teachers — responded to his remarks in emails, on social media and on a “Fire Ray Merrick” petition.
A typical emailer noted, “As an employee for KDOT, myself and fellow ‘produce nothing’ co-workers maintain your state highways in all weather temperatures and conditions, day or night. Do you, sir, get that phone call at 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning because 6 inches of snow has fallen and the ‘produce nothing’ state troopers are in need of assistance while you were nice and toasty in bed?”
Another reality, of course, is that Merrick himself is a “government employee.” He gets paid by taxpayers and will enjoy the benefit of state pensions even more than most state and local workers, thanks to a sweetener set aside for legislators.
By Tuesday afternoon Merrick was in contorted damage-control mode. He praised the “vital role” state workers have in the economy. But don’t let him off the hook that easily.
Keep in mind he said something else off-base in the recorded interview with the newspaper, something that Brownback and his followers also contend: Government jobs don’t really matter that much.
Merrick contended that, for Democrats, employment means hiring more government workers. He said former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius would “brag about her employment number, ‘Oh, I got a lot of people employed.’ Yeah, you got a lot more government employees employed. That doesn’t stimulate the economy.”
This kind of addled thinking is on display every month the Brownback administration highlights the number of private sector jobs created in the state. It ignores the fact that wiping out the government jobs of local teachers, agency staffers and law enforcement personnel eliminates salaries of people who own homes, pay taxes, and buy groceries and other goods.
Merrick is pretty comfortable in his disdain for government workers. He supported a Brownback-signed bill that curbed the tenure rights of teachers this year.
In a separate incident, he recently acted like a bully when he joined other Republicans in a failed effort to stop volunteers on the Johnson County Commission on Aging from criticizing a new state law allowing Kansas to create a “health care compact” with other states, which could change how Medicare works.
Alas, Merrick isn’t going anywhere. He won re-election Nov. 4 with 70 percent of the vote. He’s also likely to remain speaker. His announced opponent, Virgil Peck of southeast Kansas, once compared illegal immigrants to feral hogs and joked they should be shot.
Good luck, Kansas.