The N.C. Senate’s job-killing folly

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, wants to eliminate 56 employees of the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, wants to eliminate 56 employees of the N.C. Department of Transportation. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Word had barely gotten out Tuesday about N.C. Transportation Secretary Tony Tata’s resignation before political types started speculating that the former Army brigadier general might be plotting a run for Congress.

Lost in the hubbub was a different Department of Transportation story, one that highlights far more important questions for the state than those swirling around Tata’s political ambitions.

It’s the story of N.C. Sen. Bill Rabon and his “hit list” of 56 DOT employees he says should be shown the door. Because they’ve performed poorly on the job? Nope. Rabon, a Brunswick County Republican and one of the Senate’s chief transportation budget writers, says he doesn’t even know their names.

No, these folks could end up unemployed on principle alone – that is, the conservative article of faith that the private sector is more efficient than public sector bureaucrats. Rabon has been prodding the DOT to outsource more jobs to the private sector. Unsatisfied with the agency’s progress, he and other senators inserted the “cut list” in the Senate budget.

The at-risk workers average more than $83,000 apiece in salaries and benefits. That’s money that won’t go to buy cars and groceries and kids’ dance lessons from private-sector businesses those public-sector employees patronize.

And to Rabon and Co., that’s OK. They’re just public employees, like all those teacher assistants who stand to be downsized under the Senate budget.

The GOP marched into power promising smaller state government, and it is delivering. State figures show that, from the pre-recession employment peak in February 2008 to the low point two years later, North Carolina lost 333,200 jobs.

What’s happened since the recovery began? Private-sector employment is up 405,900. The largest job losses? You guessed it – the government sector, with 9,100 jobs gone. GOP conservatives call that success. Economists call it a drag on the state’s recovery.

None of this is to say public-sector jobs should never be cut. When they are no longer necessary, they should go away, just as private-sector jobs do. But you sense things in Raleigh are a little out of kilter when it turns out that one of the fat-cat DOT bureaucrats slated for elimination is a welder making less than $40,000 a year.

Are we really eliminating waste there? Or just cutting positions because they are government-sector positions?

Let’s recall that in the worst of the recession, from February 2008 to February 2010, all major industrial sectors in the state cut jobs, except the education and health services sector and the government sector. Those added 6,700 and 4,200 jobs, respectively, helping our economy when most of the private sector could not.

A job is a job. If it’s adding value and paying U.S. currency, it should not be taken lightly or eliminated arbitrarily.

Eric Frazier