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Our View: State employees face economic reality
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A "stress map" put together by the Associated Press and featured in today's newspaper edition shows that places with large numbers of government jobs, including Madison, have remained fairly recession-proof during the economic downturn. State governments, the AP says, have not been hurting that much. At least not yet.

That's about to change in Madison.

Gov. Jim Doyle announced earlier this month that to help bridge a widening budget gap most state government employees soon would experience something most in the private sector already have - furloughs. He is requiring state employees to take 16 days off without pay over the next two years.

The governor also is proposing laying off up to 1,100 state workers and making cuts of up to 5 percent in state agency budgets.

Not to be mean, but frankly it's about time state government did some of the same very painful belt-tightening that the private sector has been forced into. As governmental bodies are funded by public tax dollars, it will become increasingly necessary for state and local governments everywhere to make some of the same tough decisions - layoffs, pay freezes, furloughs, etc. - that those paying the taxes are facing. Unions representing government employees also must become more realistic as they enter into contract negotiations. The answers no longer can be to go to the taxpayers for more money.

In return, taxpayers are going to have to expect lesser amounts of service from their cash-strapped governmental bodies. But government employees also are going to have to continue to find ways to do the same, or more, with fewer resources. These are unfortunate realities in today's economic world.

It was a good gesture last week by the governor and state lawmakers to require their legislative aides to participate in the furloughs. And many lawmakers - including State Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, and Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center - already have said publicly they will voluntarily take 16 days off without pay over the next two years. While elected lawmakers can't be required to take days off without pay, any legislator who declines to participate along with their fellow state employees doesn't deserve to be in office.

One other note on the current budget climate in Madison - the governor also warned that cuts in education funding may be necessary, as well. This is further evidence of why the Qualified Economic Offer - which limits the increases teachers can receive in pay and benefits - must not be removed from the education funding formula as the governor has proposed. Pulling the QEO, along with cutting education funding, will unnecessarily place an even greater burden on local property taxpayers. In today's economy, that's simply not realistic.