Fire budget slashing: The bad dream that wasn't
The politics of slashing public service is enough to give anyone nightmares
As I drifted between consciousness and sleep, my phone chirped. An unknown number sent a message inviting me to visit an address; it was all very cryptic.
The address led me to a large warehouse building in what used to be a bustling New Jersey port. The building appeared vacant and run down. However, I could see a light deep in the building.
After squeezing through the chained gate, I cautiously walked along side the building toward the lighted window. Peering in the window, I saw two men in suits talking in a lavish office. The man sitting behind the desk I recognized immediately as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"Scott," Christie began, biting off the end of a cigar, "things are going our way. Your recall survival is validation of our cause."
Ah now I know the other person: the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.
"When I was in Wisconsin campaigning for you," continued Christie, "I ate a little pastry thing, like a tiny miniature cake with icing. What are they called?"
"I don't remember," chuckled Walker. "You know these public service jobs are really important."
A female voice over an intercom interrupted the conversation to announce that Mayor Slay of St. Louis was on the phone.
Christie smiled as he leaned forward and spoke to Walker. "Slay is an up-and-coming force. I love what he is doing with the fire department pensions in St. Louis."
With that he punched the speaker button on the phone.
"Hello governors," stated the friendly voice on the phone.
"Slay, I was just telling how you borrowed from the fire department pension to pay legal bills you have run up working against the fire department pension. Classic!"
"Well, sometimes you have to fight fire with fire." The room erupted in laughter. Christie began pounding on the desk. "Fight fire with fire," gasped Christie. When the two governors composed themselves, the voice on the phone posed a question.
"Did you guys hear my latest? I have baited the police into the idea that if they go along with the fire department pension reforms, I will put more police on the street."
"I like it," exulted Christie, who initiated a fist bump with Walker.
"Listen Mayor," began a serious Christie, "we have a slight problem. Some information has been leaked."
Christie continued, "We don't want people knowing that these public servants pay into their pension systems. We can't have people realizing the pensions are funded by the employees with the employer also contributing.
"We want the public thinking that at the end of their working careers the retirees get to spin a wheel. Whatever the number it lands on is the amount of free money they get for the rest of their life."
"Walker," the New Jersey Governor began after hanging up the phone, "look, here's the deal. Saving money has never been so easy.
"You cut the firefighters, police and teachers. Nobody sees that. You aren't taking food out of children's mouths. You aren't closing state offices. You aren't taking away from senior citizen centers.
"The best part of all this is that these groups come back for more and still do their jobs. It's a win-win. People line up for the chance to be firefighters and cops. We still have high test scores in New Jersey because the teachers think it's important to teach kids. Whatever.
"These firemen, my God they came up in their rubber coats and protested. The pizza guy couldn't even get to my office. Is that hindering interstate commerce? Can I call out the National Guard for that next time? Oh, and then they whine about high rates of cancer. Nobody made these people take these jobs. If you don't like smoke, work at the Sac 'n' Save."
"Did you see that President Obama wants more police and firefighters?” laughed Walker.
"Yes I did," laughed Christie, "Did you see what Mittens said?"
"Who is Mittens?"
"Oh that's what I call Mitt Romney," Christie said.
"Does he know that?"
"Well, no, not exactly," answered Christie. "He said Obama didn't get the memo from the election in Wisconsin. The public doesn't want more government."
"Four people on a fire truck," laughed Walker. "What does that do, make it easier to get a table at a busy restaurant, ensure the bridge game can go on?"
“The key to success is to take away all public service group labor rights," continued Walker.
With that I had heard enough. I silently made my way back to the gate and squeezed back to the street. I stopped briefly and gazed at the blinking lights of New York City just across the river. As Peter Sellers once said, "Mark my words Francois, sinister forces are at work."
As I watched the lights of the big city, I was struck by the fact that on this night as on every night there are firefighters and police officers on duty all over the country. In every community no matter how big or how small, there is a group of people who have embraced the concept of fire protection.
I jolted up in my bed, sweating and trembling. I looked around the room. Everything was in its proper place; the world was good and right. Whew, only a dream.
I nestled back into my pillow secure that nothing so horrible could ever happen. After all, elected public servants know the value of employee public servants.
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