Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Budget public hearing pits public safety employees against other city staff

The City Council doused the fires of opposition to the proposed rental tax and police and fire layoffs earlier this afternoon but the public hearing this evening on the city budget was still full of fireworks.

Well, firecrackers, anyway.

The most interesting take away from the two dozen or so people who addressed the council tonight is the resentment non public safety employees feel toward city police and firefighters.

Cops and firefighters love to tear up and play the “We could die doing our jobs” card whenever it comes to preserving their jobs or cutting their pay. And they also play the “You could die or your house could burn down” card whenever faced with job or pay cuts and they need to rally public support to oppose them. They also have have two very powerful unions with long memories come election time.

So it takes a brave soul to take on cops and firefighters during a budget crisis.

No bravery was to be found today. The council rejected laying off public safety employees as one of the means to balance the city budget.

That means the bulk of city staff and service cuts will have to come from the 1/3 of city employees who don’t work in the police or fire departments.

Their union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was at the meeting to stand up for city staff who will face layoffs. Unfortunately for the AFSCME members, their union’s not quite as scary as the public safety unions.

Given the Hobson’s choice of having a cop show up within minutes when a prowler is outside the window, or a streets worker to show up within hours to fix the pothole in front of their house, most people, if not everyone, will pick the cop.

Sorry streets guy, it’s the unemployment line for you.

But in a society that suffers from pathological egalitarianism, that kind of employment Darwinism doesn’t sit well. Whether AFSCME can develop any political power out of the anger created by this inequality of job worth the council has sanctioned remains to be seen.

Some of the other employee resentment expressed at the meeting came from blue collar employees peeved at their white collar bosses and all the perks they get for being a boss. As Tucson eats its young during this budget morass, I’d hate to be a city department head. It’s going to be chilly around the ol’ office water cooler the next few months.

The council still has to balance this year’s budget and find about $40 million to cut from next fiscal year’s budget. That effort continues next week. Will the council continue to pit classes of employees against each other? Or will they realize we’re all in this together and make sure everyone takes an equal and fair bite out of this turd sandwich?

The show’s just getting started.

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