Tax­pay­ers are right to be fu­ri­ous about shut­down

Albany Times Union - - PERSPECTIVE - By Scott Martelle ▶ Scott Martelle writes for the Los An­ge­les Times.

The U.S. Se­nate voted late Thurs­day to grant back pay for fur­loughed fed­eral work­ers, which is usu­ally what hap­pens when the gov­ern­ment shuts down. It’s a benev­o­lent and fair thing to do — 800,000 em­ploy­ees forced off the job or hav­ing to work with­out pay be­cause of a po­lit­i­cal fray shouldn’t go with­out in­come through no fault of their own.

It’s sad that grant­ing back pay for lost hours is so rou­tine for fed­eral work­ers that it has be­come a cus­tom. But that tra­di­tion should frost tax­pay­ers who foot the bill for tens of mil­lions of work hours in which no work was done.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­port­edly has promised leg­is­la­tors he’d sign the mea­sure, though it has yet to come to a vote in the House. So if it does come to pass as ex­pected, at least fed­eral work­ers who are vic­tim to the shut­down won’t suf­fer so much fi­nan­cially.

But the uncer­tainty and the fi­nan­cial stress are tak­ing a toll, par­tic­u­larly in agen­cies where morale is al­ready low. The union for the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Agency says some of its mem­bers — who are con­sid­ered es­sen­tial per­son­nel and must stay on the job through the shut­down — have or are plan­ning to quit rather than be forced to work with­out pay. Ditto for the air traf­fic con­trollers. And two other unions rep­re­sent­ing a wide range of fed­eral work­ers, in­clud­ing Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers, have filed law­suits against the gov­ern­ment.

That shouldn’t sur­prise. This is the third shut­down in a year for fed­eral work­ers (al­beit one of them lasted only a few hours) and it’s un­der­stand­able that the stress from such uncer­tainty and em­ployer dys­func­tion would have folks look­ing for the exit.

In an econ­omy in which four out of five work­ers live pay­check to pay­check, grant­ing back pay is the right thing to do for fur­loughed work­ers. But it’s not just fed­eral em­ploy­ees who are caught in the po­lit­i­cal cross­fire; fed­eral con­trac­tors lose busi­ness dur­ing the shut­down and don’t get paid. Some small op­er­a­tors say they are be­ing forced to lay off work­ers and fear for the fu­ture of their busi­nesses.

Mean­while, most con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans — who can usu­ally be counted on to look out for the health of Amer­i­can busi­nesses — con­tinue to stand with Trump over his de­mand for a waste­ful and in­ef­fec­tive bor­der wall that most Amer­i­cans don’t want, while the gov­ern­ment ser­vices they do want (and pay for) are cir­cum­scribed.

No won­der Amer­i­cans are so cyn­i­cal about Wash­ing­ton.

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