A social compact on the verge of breakdown

Public employees are our friends, our neighbors and our family members. Police officers, firefighters and teachers are a necessary part of a well-ordered civil society. But in Massachusetts, the social compact is on the verge of breaking down because of paychecks and benefits for public employees that are grotesquely out of whack with what folks in the private sector earn.

Here are four quick examples — three from the Boston Globe:

  • Boston police officers are getting as much as $250,000 in salary and overtime — some of it legitimately, some of it for staying a few minutes past their shift to finish paperwork. “The salaries are excessive,” Police Commissioner Edward Davis told the Globe. “Clearly the average person on the street does not make this kind of money.”
  • In Framingham, town employees and retirees are at loggerheads with the taxpayers who fund their health benefits, which in most cases amount to 87 percent of premiums — a far better deal than anyone in the private sector can hope to get.
  • An arbitrator recently awarded Boston firefighters a 19 percent raise over four years in return for agreeing to drug and alcohol tests and some limits on sick time. The Globe has called on the city council to reject the $74 million cost of the agreement, but there are no signs that the members will find the requisite backbone to do so.
  • There’s a new reform administration in charge of the Essex Regional Retirement Board, and it seems that every day it finds something gross crawling out from under a rock. The latest, according to the ever-vigilant Salem News: the previous board spent more than $200,000 in legal fees to advance a sleazy scheme to put 39 workers on a housing authority payroll for one day so they would be eligible for higher benefits and Social Security.

How this will play out in the fall election is anyone’s guess. You’d think it would have a significant effect on the governor’s race. But Gov. Deval Patrick has pushed harder (though not hard enough) against such abuses than his predecessors, and neither Republican candidate Charlie Baker nor Treasurer Tim Cahill, the independent, has advanced a credible case for being the change agent voters are looking for.

At the very least, though, Republicans ought to be able to make their first significant gains in the legislature since 1990.