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April 6, 2020

3/26/2020 7:29:00 AM
Right now, a time for shared sacrifice

These are tough times, and in tough times Americans unite.

In so many crises, citizens have come together to equally bear the burden of battle; they have shared in the sacrifice.

Now, during the shut down of our national economy - not to mention of our lives in Wisconsin - something troublesome is going on: Our political leaders are not asking for shared sacrifice.

Instead, at least so far, they are picking winners and losers.

With their lockdown edicts, Gov. Tony Evers and other governors have eviscerated the nation's economy. Already massive layoffs have driven unemployment claims to record highs. Small businesses teeter on the brink, with only weeks left to get a lifeline.

In all these proclamations, the biggest loser is the private sector, while the public sector is skating away. Our governor and other governors have compelled millions to lose their jobs because of forced closures of so-called non-essential businesses, but so far, the vast majority of government actions related to public employees has been to protect them from any harm.

Around the country, from Milwaukee to Mississippi, from coast to coast, in both parties, while officials effectively decree that private sector employees lose their paychecks, emergency orders and laws protect the pay of nonessential public employees, whether they can work or not.

In Wisconsin, Evers's order did not give any industry any say in closures. The governor and his bureaucrats and special interest cronies decided who was essential and who was not. But, when it came to government workers, except for emergency, health care, and other personnel related to the crisis, Evers's order gave each local government the right to decide which of its workers were essential and which were not.

So it's no wonder we have not seen layoffs of government employees except in a scattering of locations around the country, and none in Wisconsin that we know of. Oneida County board chairman Dave Hintz told us this past week some county workers could lose their jobs, but that hasn't happened yet.

It should soon if the emergency doesn't end, for paying nonessential public employees while their counterparts in the private sector suffer is a glaring bias and betrayal that, if it continues, will further erode the public's trust in government.

To be sure, a federal stimulus is coming, but it's worth noting that the federal government didn't decree the state of Wisconsin's shut down; the state of Wisconsin decreed the state of Wisconsin's shut down. So it's time for the state and its local governments to take their own action to mitigate what the state itself has caused.

Bottom line, the state government must provide relief to the people it has hurt.

First, all nonessential public employees must be laid off or furloughed, and nonessential government programs cut. Second, the governor should call the Legislature into special session to execute those cuts and to provide immediate tax relief.

Right now, not next year, is the time to cut taxes. Use the bounty of downsizing nonessential state government to pay for it. It's called shared sacrifice.

Towns and counties should step up to the plate, too, furloughing or laying off nonessential personnel and cutting nonessential programs. They should re-open their current year budgets to do so and to reduce their own tax levies.

Voters need to ask their town and county officials, what are you doing within your budget to cut costs so taxpayers can find relief?

In addition, the federal government has given taxpayers until mid-July to pay federal taxes. But property taxes are due just a couple of weeks later at the end of the month.

That will be a double whammy on already suffering citizens, so counties should request that the Legislature change the law to postpone property tax payments until later in the year.

There are many more suggestions, but the bottom line is that state, county, city, and town governments need to act now to close their own nonessential operations for the duration of the emergency, just as government has ordered the private sector to do, and to furlough or layoff those idled workers.

Time is of the essence. The economic damage of swelling unemployment will potentially take a toll on travel and other discretionary budgets, an ongoing threat to our summer tourist season.

Things can be turned around, though, if governments take shared responsibility. The federal stimulus will help. What will help more is letting our people work again.

One thing is for sure. While the merits of the massive lockdown can be debated on both sides, what should not be debated is that during such a lockdown one class of people - nonessential government workers- should not be protected any more than nonessential private-sector workers.

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