Press Talk: Would you do the fair thing?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 
photoLou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505, twitter.com/lounews or lou.brancaccio@columbian.com.

Stuff happens.

And sometimes it's almost too strange to comprehend. Really.

For example, let's say you make $1,000 a week. Then one week you open up your check and it's for $10,000.

A mistake has been made. Your boss comes to you and says "Hey, sorry we goofed and overpaid you."

What do you say?

"Tough luck boss. Even though I know it's not mine, I'm keeping it."

Or...

"Dang, I was hoping it was a big bonus, but I know it's not mine. I'll give it back."

OK, 99 percent of us would do the right thing. But we all know about that 1 percent.

Take what happened with folks at Portland's Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund. They screwed up and paid some retired public employees too much cash. It amounted to almost $3 million.

The right thing to do, of course, would be to agree to give the money back. One has to remember, when you squeeze $3 million too much out of the government in cases like this, you're squeezing $3 million out of taxpayers' pockets.

Well, welcome to the 1 percent. Getting that money back to taxpayers isn't going to be easy. High-priced lawyers are involved, the courts are involved and -- as usual with government and its workers -- it's going to be a struggle.

And it's important to remember that no one -- no one -- is arguing that these government workers deserve this extra cash.

Some of those representing the workers have suggested what the government should do is to go to the taxpayers and ask them to just give it up.

Hey, throw us another $3 million, what's the big deal?

I suspect this somewhat cavalier attitude comes from what the taxpayers have been doing all along. Giving it up to public employees. You know, stuff like great benefits and sweet pensions. Stuff that most of us private working stiffs haven't seen in years.

• • •

Sometimes I wonder if private working stiffs will ever wake up to what's going on. The reason why we're taken advantage of is, politicians don't fear us at the ballot box. But they do fear government workers who are organized.

The one thing working in favor of the private working stiff is this: Our pockets are empty.

So — but not because it's the right thing to do — very slowly, things seem to be turning around.

Just the other day, the county won the right to get rid of the vacation payback program for sheriff's deputies. That was costing us taxpayers more than $800,000 a year!

Even with the recent cutbacks, public employees -- on average -- still are much better off than the private sector. Most of us could only wish for what public workers get.

In the meantime, there's this little matter of that $3 million overpayment in Portland.

Let's hope the light bulb goes off and those who got this cash from taxpayers will come to their senses and do the right thing.

But don't assume the right thing will happen. They're just too used to the government's always giving in.Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505, http://twitter.com/lounews or lou.brancaccio@columbian.com.