When is a rainy day not a rainy day? How can some believe it's a rainy day and others say it's not a rainy day? What is a rainy day anyway, and what can cause this difference of opinion?
The answer is when the "rainy day" isn't about the weather at all but, rather, when the term is used by elected officials to describe a moment when a financial crisis exists. And, when during such a crisis, the government has an "umbrella" called a rainy day or reserve fund to protect itself from the effects of a financial crisis.
You would think it would not be that difficult for everyone to agree when government is in a crisis and it should dip into safety net funds. But when there's a disagreement, it is usually because the real purpose of the rainy day fund isn't clearly understood by those who have a great interest in reapportioning the money in the fund.
Some would say that since it's not raining, the fund can be used for anything, whether a crisis exists or not. Others would say it may rain some day, so let's not use the fund because the purpose is to cover those unexpected situations.
What constitutes a rainy day is in the eye of the beholder or, to be more accurate, in the eye of those who believe they are entitled to use the money at any time and, consequently, aren't really interested in taking precautions to prepare for the future.
Such seems to be the position the city of Tulsa and its public employee unions find themselves. They appear to have reached an impasse in their collective bargaining talks, which have stalled over compensation.
The unions want more compensation and benefits every year. The city leaders say money doesn't grow on trees and everyone has to live within the economy we are dealt. The unions are reminded that people in the private sector don't get salary increases every year.
Some city politicians, who have their heads in the sand and their fingers on the polls, say they are all for giving the unions everything they want. Their opinion seems to be that we should just worry about consequences tomorrow. Others, more fiscally conservative, say we have to learn from our past fiscal failures, not repeat our mistakes, and to always be prepared for an uncertain future.
Those in the unions believe as each year goes by they are worth more money. Some representing the unions believe that, like fine wine, just the passage of another year makes them more valuable. Those in the government who are responsible for spending the public's money don't think the passage of time is what makes those in the union worth more money. Value is measured by talent, not time.
Those in the unions say that if the city has money that is not budgeted or designated for a specific purpose, then that money should go to them. The city says every responsible government or business has a reserve fund to cover one-time costs for unexpected expenses during a financial crisis. They further argue that it would be unfair, even irresponsible, to wipe out or greatly diminish what amounts to having a savings account just to give permanent pay raises to a few employees.
The law says that when negotiations reach an impasse, the city and the unions go to arbitration. Once an arbitrator makes a decision, that decision could be appealed to the public by calling for an election. On the ballot would be two propositions: The city's last and best position, and, the union's last and best position. Every voter would vote for the position he or she decides to support.
From the union's perspective, an election before the citizens is not something the union should want to see in Tulsa.
While past mayors have allowed the city government to become a unionized government, with a good 75 percent of the workforce belonging to a collective bargaining union, the vast majority of the non-government workforce, businesses, and voters in the city of Tulsa are not members of a union. And those would be the people turning out to vote on how they want their money spent and managed.
Would the voters agree with how the unions want to spend the public's money or would the voters agree that it's more important that the city puts aside a portion of revenue for hard times? With Tulsa being a fiscally conservative non-union city, would the union really want to take risk finding out at the polls?
Perhaps if the unions believe they are entitled to more compensation, what they should be bringing to the city is a spending reduction plan that shows the city officials how and where they can cut spending to the point that it can afford the compensation package which the union is demanding. Rather than just demand that more be spent on them, the unions should be showing the city how they can afford to spend more on them by cutting inefficient spending elsewhere in the government. In other words, don't expand the size of the spending pie but, rather, re-cut the same pie into pieces of different sizes.
Tulsa will have rainy days. It's smart to be prepared for them. It's equally smart not to forget what happened to us when we failed to remember that in the past.
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