Speaking on Feb. 28 at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., President Obama told the state executives that "it does no one any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon."
He also echoed a point that union activists have been making forcefully in Wisconsin and other states in recent weeks. "As we make decisions about our budgets going forward, I believe everyone should be at the table, and the concept of shared sacrifice should prevail."
Obama talked about the tough decisions that states face now that Recovery Act funds—which helped every state cope with the recession, as he reminded the governors—are phasing out. "I also know many of you are making decisions regarding your public workforce, and I know how difficult that can be," he said. "Freezing the salaries of federal employees for two years isn't something I wanted to do, but I did it because of the very tough fiscal situation we're in.
"Everyone should be prepared to give up something in order to solve our budget challenges, and I think most public servants agree with that. In fact, many public employees have already agreed to cuts in several of your states.
"But let me also say this: It does no one any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon. We need to attract the best and the brightest to public service. These are times that demand it.
"We're not going to attract the best teachers for our kids, for example, if they only make a fraction of what other professionals make. We're not going to convince the bravest Americans to put their lives on the line as police officers or firefighters if we don't properly reward that bravery. So yes, we need a conversation about pensions and Medicare and Medicaid and other promises we've made as a nation.
"But as we make decisions about our budgets going forward, I believe everyone should be at the table, and the concept of shared sacrifice should prevail. If all the pain is borne by one group—whether it's workers, or seniors, or the poor—while the wealthiest among us keep getting tax cuts, we're not doing the right thing. I think that's something Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on." [Dan Gursky, Associated Press]
February 28, 2011