By Byron York
Whenever a conservative suggests reducing the federal deficit by cutting spending rather than raising taxes, there's always someone to ask, "Well, what would you cut?" Americans may say they want less government spending, the argument goes, but they don't want anyone to touch their services and subsidies and monthly checks.
Fair enough. But there's a persuasive counterargument going around in conservative circles these days: You can start cutting government spending without cutting anyone's services or subsidies or monthly checks. Just bring the pay of federal workers into line with pay in the private sector.
A recent Heritage Foundation study found the average federal worker (excluding the uniformed military) makes $78,901 a year in wages and salary versus $50,111 for the average private-sector worker. When you count generous health and pension benefits, the average total compensation of federal workers comes to $111,015 a year versus $60,078 in the private sector.
In recent years, that disparity has been fueled by an explosion of federal generosity on the high end of the pay scale. For example, USA Today recently reported that in December 2007, a total of 1,868 civilian workers in the Defense Department earned $150,000 or more; by June 2009, the number was 10,100. In late 2007, the paper says, just one employee at the Transportation Department earned more than $170,000. Less than two years later, 1,690 workers earned that much….
…In the meantime, the problem is getting worse, not better. While the private sector has shed millions of jobs in the recession, the federal government has added nearly 200,000 employees to its rolls. That's more salaries, more benefits and more pensions. And the pay problem is replicated in states across the country; most of them have similar public-private disparities, and many of them are facing calamitous budget deficits.
Pay equity between government and private workers would help solve those problems. The next time someone asks, "Well, what would you cut?" -- conservatives have an answer.