Just how essential is “non-essential?”

As the large majority of my readers know – I’ll say large majority because readership is fairly Delmarva-centric but others from across our land stumble onto the site as well – this neck of the woods just endured two significant snow events in a week’s time (and may get another half-foot for the Presidents’ Day holiday.) In each case, state and local government shut down as did the gears of Washington, D.C. Only “essential” workers needed to come in while others were told to stay home or placed on the (aptly-named) “liberal leave policy.”

The obvious question to ask, then, is just how these positions can’t be cut in an era where we all need to cut back on our personal spending due to unemployment, lack of raises, or cutbacks in hours. Sure, there will be some government workers added to the unemployment rolls for a time but leaving capital in the private sector will eventually allow these workers to be absorbed back into the labor pool.

Of course, some would ask about the services which these temporarily furloughed workers were performing to make them non-essential. One example could be the paid staff at one of the many attractions run by the federal government and closed during the height of the storm. Tourism wasn’t exactly bustling during this time when everyone was hunkered down.

Perhaps the biggest shock was the news reports that these unexpected furloughs cost taxpayers $350 million in lost productivity for 3 1/2 days off. Some did their work from home, but if you take that figure and assume 200 days’ work per year it seems like an easy $20 billion cut right there without even breathing hard. It was a tough go for us in the mid-Atlantic region but out in flyover country people survived the lack of non-essential federal services pretty well.

Then again, if the definition of lost productivity includes not dreaming up needless regulations and lobbyists losing a chance to buttonhole their bought and paid for members of Congress on their newest rentseeking schemes (which only qualifies as productivity in the bizarro world of Fedzilla,) $100 million a day might not be a bad price to pay considering the federal government now spends over $10 billion per day.

We are approaching a point where the federal government is taking in less than 60% of what it spends (a $1.6 trillion deficit on $3.8 trillion budget.) Just to make things even we would need to cut entire departments or seriously curtail entitlement programs, or both. The Blizzards of 2010 proved that not everything is a vital function of government; however, the weaning of dependency needs to spread far beyond the borders of the District of Columbia.

Often I write about returning to a government based on the Constitution and much smaller than what we’re saddled with today. Those who more or less agree with me banded together into TEA Parties and eventually took that message to the “belly of the beast.” I’m certain that the vast majority of them would be willing to give up some cherished government service or entitlement as their sacrifice to the cause. To be truly independent and free requires losing the chains of dependence and slavery that Washington puts on us, and the elections of 2010 and 2012 could provide the key.

At that point, perhaps the next “storm of the century” won’t be such a big deal because the federal seat of government will command much less importance in life.

Note: while I was crossposting this to Red County, I ran across a great article by Chip Hanlon about those TEA Partiers – it’s well worth reading. Some places will need these protests longer than others will as there are governmental bodies who are getting the message.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

3 thoughts on “Just how essential is “non-essential?””

  1. Michael, FYI — in terms of state workers, there were two classifications used:

    1) Administrative Leave. You still are paid for your time, since you were able to work, but they couldn’t have you come to work. But, you accrue no leave time while on administrative leave (nor service time for pension or other benefit purposes). As an employee of University of Maryland, Baltimore, I was able to work from home all 4.5 days, but will still have to mark this as administrative leave. And I can guarantee you that in my case, over the last three weeks, I worked an average of 70 hrs per week.

    2) Liberal Leave. You might snicker at it, but what it means is that if you can’t come in (for whatever reason), you can use your personal leave (or PTO if you will) without having to get advanced approval. Basically, you have to use vacation if you have 3 feet of snow on your street and can’t get to work.

  2. That would totally suck because the only time I’d want vacation in February is if I were going someplace warm and sunny. Remind me not to work for the state.

  3. Keep in mind, Michael… most of us get a boatload of leave. Why do you think I went to work for the state? I was tired of the private sector’s “two week unless you are here ten years” bullcrap. And don’t get me started on the blatant abuse of the Exempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act by many private sector companies.

    I’ll admit it. I went to the state because the vacation benefits were better. I may still work massive hours during crunch periods, but I get a lot more time off than a measly two weeks, and I get to roll it from year to year.

    And I won’t go back to the private sector until private sector employers solve their problem of cranio-rectal inversion.

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