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Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Save middle class: Time to raise taxes

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

10/04/2011

Assuming the headline got your attention, stick with me for a minute. I haven’t totally lost my mind.

Public employees are the last fragments of the United States’ once robust middle class. If their jobs disappear, we can kiss our community farewell. That “tipping point” all the local movers-and-shakers talk about when they get together stops being talk pretty fast when there’s no middle class.

Long gone are the days when every house in Loves Park, IL, had an RV, a fishing boat and a map to Wisconsin’s north woods. Back then, manufacturing jobs paid upwards of $50,000, no high school, much less college, degree required. That was good money, job security and a solid, secure life for thousands of families.

So slowly that the transition was imperceptible to all but those looking for it, four decades of waning factory jobs took their toll on a long list of others  dependent on that manufacturing middle class: accountants, lawyers, journalists, homeowners, auto dealers, preachers. You. Me.

At the same time, public employees — teachers, law enforcement, fire fighters, road crews, secretaries, marketing and development executives — bargained first for better benefits and then for better wages. Public employees went from barely paying the bills to middle class over those four decades.

Today, they’re all we’ve got left of a middle class, here and around the country. If the middle fails, expect the resulting black hole to suck the rest of us in.

So, it’s time to raise taxes to save those jobs. Every penny of such a tax increase goes directly to job creation (hire more probation officers, please) and job retention (you get to keep your job if you’re actually doing it well.)

Not a penny can go to salary increases: no steps, lanes, bargaining increases, cost of living. They’ve got to give those up, just like the private sector workers have done. For the next five years, public employees get to keep their jobs at the current salary — assuming, as I said before, they’re actually doing the job.

No layoffs for five years. No threats of job reductions. Just the security of knowing that a paycheck will keep coming — and that check can be used to remodel a kitchen, buy a car, take out a mortgage on a new house, pay down the credit cards, send the kid(s) off to higher education.

In turn, public employees have got to step it up. Make quality work and customer service the way it’s always done. Pick up more (a lot) for health care benefits and pensions. Work longer hours for the same pay. Learn new skills. Sit down and bargain in good faith to reduce costs (Four on a truck? Spare me) with those who pay your now secure paychecks.

The Tea Party tax-haters can scream from here to heaven and cast about for pointing fingers, but there’s this one gut-wrenching truth: The middle class is the glue that holds America together. These days, the only middle class left is public employees. If we trash and ditch them, we’re all going under.

Time to raise taxes. Save the middle class.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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