Taxpayers Sick of Government Sick Pay?


IN FOCUS: Arizona latest state to spend big bucks on cashing out retiring public workers sick pay

STEVE FORBES: Yes, only in the public sector would you get paid twice, once for showing up to work and then for not getting sick. In the private sector, you don't have that. Chris Christie is right, the states can't afford it. He cited the example of a state policeman, two-thirds retirement pay, health care benefits paid for, $200,000 for sick pay, only pay 7 percent of your salary to all of this. He said unaffordable. David, in the public sector their benefits and overall pay, 50 percent higher per hour than what you find in the private sector. Not doable.

MARK TATGE: Look, I agree with the idea that this is insurance and it should not be paid to people unless they are sick, but let's take a look at this. Essentially, these people negotiate these and this is part of their benefit package. They are paid a lot less money than what they are paid in the private sector. So this is something that people have come to rely on and that we've paid people for years. I take this to telling Steve that he can't take his stock option, that he can't cash those in. Here, yes there is a need for reform but then we should be paying these people more money.

VICTORIA BARRET: Hearing Chris Christie talk about this, it actually makes me want to move to New Jersey. It is awesome that he is taking this on, and that says a lot, not everyone wants to move to New Jersey. No offense to New Jersey. It is a real sickness in the system, and it is because we are not calling a spade a spade. It has become this hidden little benefit. One superintendent in Illinois showed up to work to start his job with 200 days of sick leave. What that is isn't that he is planning on getting the flu 400 times; it is that he knows he can get a payout eventually. You have to call a spade a spade at least, get rid of this. It just makes no sense.

DENNIS KNEALE: The more the government salaries and pay packages can reflect exactly the private sector, the better for taxpayers. That is what we should be doing here. My mom was a teacher for 35 years; she did retire with 85 days of sick pay. That was a nice bonus for her, but sorry mom we should not be paying it anymore to government employees. The other thing is does guys, is it gets people, because they want to save and bank the sick days to get a bonus upon retirement or leaving the company, to come to work sick and get other people sick. That hurts productivity.

RICK UNGAR: Let's start by putting a real face on this. It is very easy to talk about this when we put the word "public employees." We are talking about policemen, we are talking about firemen, we are talking about people who do jobs that we do not see in the private sector. We are talking who protect our lives, save our lives, so we can turn around and complain about what they are getting paid. When it comes to sick pay, think about this, in the private sector it is use it or lose it. If you don't use your sick pay you lose it. So what happens? Most people tend to use it whether they are sick or not. Now take that to the public sector. What happens? When cops end up using it, they end up being off the street and what do we have to do? We have to pay for someone else to come in and take their shift. It ends up being pay me now or pay me later, but you are paying it either way.

MIKE OZANIAN: Mark brought up the point that well, they give them these benefits because they cannot afford to pay them. That is exactly the point. The politicians that sign off on these deals, know that if they included these benefits in present salaries, there is no way they can afford to pay it. So, they push it off into the future when they are not going to be in office. In my town in New Jersey, the budget was increased for pensions by 25 percent this year based on deals that people running the town years ago signed off on. You have to reflect what is fair now in the current deal when you have them money. You do not know what is going to happen down the road.

FLIPSIDE: U.S. Travel Association claims that if there were less hassle involved with flying, 900,000 jobs would be created

STEVE FORBES: This is one of the biggest hassles of traveling today, so why not have the best methods and why not have this pre-check program that is going at a snail's pace. In terms of technology, this crazy machine they have now, where you empty everything out and raise your hands like you are being robbed, which you are of your dignity, we can't get any better technology on that. And then David, for the end, how about not using the tax money on tickets for "pork" and instead, use it to improve the traffic control system, which if we had a modern system, we would have twice the traffic capacity than we do today.

RICH KARLGAARD: Well, let me just step back. I agree with everything Steve says, but the day before Christmas let's just have a little gratitude and patience here. Commercial flying is about 20 times safer than it was 50 years ago. Jet Service became common. It is about 10 times cheaper on an inflation adjusted basis. My goodness, this is the problem of affluence. I think if we do everything Steve says, we are going to get more travelers and we are still going to have these minor hassles. But, it is a hassle that is equivalent to complaining about my basket is full in the shopping line and it is taking too long. I mean how many people in the history of human beings have had those kinds of problems.

VICTORIA BARRET: I just found out that later today, as I board a flight, my toddler is going to be patted down just because he may be a security risk. It is foolish and it is a nuisance, but I do not think it is stopping people from traveling. I think the airlines are to blame in a larger part because people are fed up with delays. The delays have become out of control, the hours spent on the tarmac. I think this new industry association study is the pot calling the kettle black. I blame the airlines to a greater degree than the folks patting us down inline.

MIKE OZANIAN: I think the TSA has gone way overboard David. The last time I flew I was coming back from Indianapolis and after I went through all that security that Steve just described, before I got on the gate there were three TSA employees and one of the three was randomly picking out people on line. Who knows why? They need three employees to have one pick someone out of line after we have already gone through security? It is overkill as far as I am concerned. It is a big hassle.

MORGAN BRENNAN: Actually, I wholeheartedly agree with what Steve has to say about updating our infrastructure where flying is concerned. At the very least, if we made it more efficient and more flyers were encouraged to fly, we would, even if we didn't create more jobs, we would maintain more jobs. We have about 200,000 people less per day this holiday season flying. Some of that is because of the poor economy, but some of that is discretionary flyers who are choosing other means of travel. If we can find a way to bring those people back, we can create more jobs.

KYM MCNICHOLAS: We should get them back in the air, but that does not mean that more people will be put to work because of that. Greater efficiency equals greater productivity. Proof is in 2008. After the recession hit, we had mass layoffs, the highest unemployment rate in more than a decade, and yet the U.S. Department of Labor actually reported in 2010, that productivity actually increased by 4 percent. In the fourth quarter of that same year, the U.S. actually generated the same amount of output as it did three years prior.

Schools in Los Angeles spending big bucks to make kids' lunches more healthy

KYM MCNICHOLAS: First of all does that even sound good? A school cafeteria making black bean burgers? I would bring junk food to school too if that was the case. But take this into consideration, I mean talk about a waste of taxpayer dollars, that national average per kid per meal in 2009 was $2.92, and it has jumped to more than $3.00 per kid per meal because of these healthier options. You can spend $0.29 per sandwich for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I mean add maybe some hummus, some avocado, $0.75 per sandwich. We do not need to be spending $300 million per year, which is what the LA Unified School District is spending in the 2011-2012 school year on kale. It is ridiculous.

MORGAN BRENNAN: I completely, wholeheartedly disagree with the fact that you are saying it is not working. Yes this process is going to take some tinkering and maybe the menus need to be addressed a little bit, but the truth of the matter is we have a huge obesity epidemic in this country. The number of childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. We are seeing cases of type two diabetes among kids. And yes, school lunches are a part of that. I will give you an example. New York City Public Schools instates a healthier lunch program. They just did a study and in the past five years since they have instated it, they have seen childhood obesity among their students go down 21 percent.

STEVE FORBES: This is sounding like advocates of prohibition, just a little more time and people will get used to it. It does not work. You would not feed this cardboard stuff to your dog. If you are worried about obesity how about bringing back recess? How about bring back sports programs that personal injury lawyers have done away with. Feed the kids, starve the lawyers.

DENNIS KNEALE: For you guys who are opposed to this, are you saying pay no mind at all to what we feed our kids at school. Let's let them eat double cheeseburgers. Heck, if we want to save money, why don't we just feed them gruel! The fact is this is a local decision. If the taxpayers in Los Angeles want to pay a little more to let their kids try and eat healthier, who are hurting here?

RICH KARLGAARD: You know there is a real simple solution here and it does not have to involve bean burgers. You just limit salt and sugar. You do not serve potato chips, French fries and soda. Serve the macaroni and cheese and hamburgers. Everyone will do fine and we won't spend more money.

INFORMER: Stuff Steve's stocking

KYM MCNICHOLAS: Peabody Energy (BTU)