Globe Editorial

GOP works on Evacuation Day, sending a message to Dems

March 19, 2010

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WHEN REPUBLICANS in the state Legislature held a caucus Wednesday, it was a bit of a PR gimmick to point out that they were working on Evacuation Day, while other State House employees were enjoying a paid day off.

And good for the Republicans for doing it. Governor Patrick also deserves credit, because he was on the job as well. Meanwhile, the Legislature’s Democratic leaders should be embarrassed by the persistence of Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day, two obscure holidays celebrated exclusively by public employees in Suffolk County. Because these so-called “high hack holidays’’ have become a frequent subject of scorn on right-wing talk radio, legislative Democrats may find it easy to tune out the criticism.

Well, they shouldn’t. The holidays are among many policies that make voters think lawmakers have a higher commitment to the wants of public employees than the needs of the taxpaying public.

The state’s budget crisis has shed light on the high structural costs of state and local government in Massachusetts: Public pensions dwarf those available to private-sector workers.

A recent Globe survey of health care costs suggests that the proportion of municipal budgets devoted to employee health care has nearly doubled in a decade, and yet public employee unions resist the most common-sense efforts to get them to share the burden.

Instead, union leaders rail against efforts to balance the budget on the backs of state and local employees. A municipal union leader in Salem recently called upon mayors to come up with “creative solutions’’ to the budget crisis, including higher taxes. To taxpayers who are struggling with their own expenses amid a grim economy, such arguments aren’t persuasive; they’re a provocation. Not only are public employees refusing to accept provisions that are commonplace in the private sector, but they want taxpayers to dig deeper to sustain bloated public-sector perks.

Supporters of the hack holidays barely keep a straight face when arguing that maintaining them is vital to commemorating the region’s revolutionary history. While abolishing them might not save much money up front, it would allow public agencies two or three more days’ worth of work. More importantly, it would also signal to an anxious general public that the Legislature is capable of at least some reforms.

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