September 4: Anchorage Daily News on government workers

Posted: Tuesday, September 05, 2000

Since 1894, Labor Day has been a national holiday in the United States, a time to honor working men and women with a day of rest and reflection.

When Grover Cleveland signed a bill making Labor Day a national holiday, it applied to all federal workers and those who toiled in the District of Columbia.

That's right, government workers. There are people who snicker that ''government workers'' is an oxymoron. One more easy, thoughtless criticism.

Cut government -- it's become an article of faith for some people, a ticket to some promised land of prosperity. The notion of less government plays nicely into the hands of people who support the statewide 10-mill property tax limit. Give city governments less to spend and they'll regulate, govern and interfere with us less. There will be fewer people on the public payroll. Fewer of ''them.''

Oh, yeah, that old saw: ''us and them.''

Labor Day might be a fair day to remember that there is no ''us and them.'' Just us. Whether you draw your pay from a private or public purse, the value of a good work ethic is the same.

Remember another old saw: An honest day's work for an honest day's pay. That old saw still cuts. And an honest day's work is all most of us want from city employees.

We don't want to pay any more taxes than necessary, and it's not the taxpayers' duty to provide city jobs. City work may pay well; good workers are worth it. But the city's goal is to provide services as efficiently and effectively as possible. If the city can maintain those services with fewer workers, then the city should do so -- with care.

State Sen. Johnny Ellis once pointed out that the schoolteacher and the snowplow driver are not the enemy. He used them as examples of state employees. The same could be said about those who work for the city. They are not the enemy. They're neighbors. When they do good work for us, they earn their pay and are entitled to it.

When they don't, they put more signatures on the 10-mill tax cap and more votes for it in the ballot box.

Labor Day is a good day to remember that people who work for the city work for all of us. They're no less deserving of the good worker's respect than anyone else.

At the same time, the fact that they work for all of us makes each them responsible for his or her share of the public trust. ''Close enough for government work'' should be only a joke.

The most rabid of tax-cap supporters may rail about their burden and the excesses of city government. Most of us just want to know that the people paid by our tax dollars earn them.

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