Retirement Predictions, Sin Taxes' Side Effects and the Impact of Class Sizes

Plus: a great resource for child welfare workers and more management news
 

Human resource experts almost universally predicted that there was going to be a deluge of retirements any minute in 2007 when we surveyed them for the Government Performance Project. They had good logic behind their predictions, but many seemed to miss the fact that a bad economy could lead to a reduction in retirement funds and thus a delay in departures.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve again been talking to a number of HR directors for a new project. They acknowledge that the wave of retirements has been predicted for almost a decade, but now, nearly every one of them says there’s going to be a huge outflow of workers to retirement in the next couple of years -- and states better be prepared.

We’ll bet that most drivers are often unaware whether they’re riding on a state, city, county or federal road; and unless someone is calling to complain about a pothole, it usually doesn’t make much of a difference to them. But coordination between the different entities that own and maintain roads can be extremely useful for controlling transportation expenses and improving efficiency.

So, kudos to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which announced in late March that it’s creating an Office of Community Transportation. According to the AASHTO Journal, this is “part of a statewide initiative to build relationships between state and local officials when coordinating planning and land use decisions.”

Tennessee isn’t the first state to build such an organization. California and Washington also have similar offices, according to the release.

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There’s an old joke that goes like this: An elderly man returns home from church and is greeted by his family. “What did the preacher talk about?” one of them inquires.

“Sin,” says the old man.

“What did he say?”

Old man: “He was against it.”

We always think about this joke when we hear about a state levying sin taxes, which are almost always one of the easiest ways to bring in additional revenue. But there can be unfortunate side effects to them.

A recent report from Virginia shows that the bigger the sin tax on cigarettes, the bigger the profit margin is for illegally smuggling them from a low-tax state to a high-tax state. In fact, the profit margins on black market cigarettes are now greater than for cocaine, heroin and illegal firearms.

It’s always fun drawing distinctions between generations. We’re curious to hear how useful you think these are in managing a workforce and how reasonable you think the following breakdown from a session at the National Association of State Comptrollers conference is:

  • The Silent Generation who was born or grew up during WWII: Hard work. No option!
  • Baby Boomers: Work. Work. Work. It’s what we are about.
  • Generation X: Work with more flexibility. But work even more? Let’s talk.
  • Millennials/Gen Y: Work flexibly anywhere. Tell me why you want me to do something. Work harder? No way, and I'm texting my friends to tell them what a jerk you are.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy has kept an eye on the issue of class size and its effect on educational outcomes and cost for years. Here’s the latest from a January 2013 report:

"In the earliest K–12 grades, reducing class size has a high probability of producing a favorable outcome -- that is, where the long-term benefits of reducing class size consistently exceed the costs. In the upper grades, on the other hand, reducing class size poses a substantial risk of an unfavorable outcome -- that is, where costs may often exceed benefits."

And while we were visiting the Washington State Institute for Public Policy website, we also came across a very valuable inventory of research-based practices in the child welfare/mental health arena. If your work -- or your interest -- focuses on these areas, we strongly recommend you take a look.

Two quotes from the late longtime New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

  • "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."
  • "No one is innocent after the experience of governing. But not everyone is guilty."

We’ve seen various sources argue that times are good for the states nowadays, as evidenced by cash surpluses that can be potentially used to restock rainy day funds. There’s no doubt that revenue has gone up in many states, but that’s not the whole story.

Future threats to the states’ fiscal status are alarming. Just consider underfunded pensions, unfunded health care plans, federal cutbacks now and in the future and long-term debt. What’s more, the states have a pretty deep hole to dig themselves out of before their services return to pre-recession levels.

While a certain amount of job-cutting has doubtless been reasonable and efficient in nature, the cuts have been remarkably steep, as pointed out by Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers. State employment declined by 195,000 between August 2008 and February 2013 (while local government employment declined by 558,000). Meanwhile, as recently as February, state governments eliminated another 8,000 positions.

A couple of weeks ago, we indicated that some people in government positions use automatic “out of office” responses to e-mails even when they’re actually in the office. Frankly, we wish we hadn’t brought the whole thing up. We received about eight responses -- many with a somewhat insulting tone -- castigating us for perceived government-worker bashing.

One wrote: “I believe your paragraph of suspicion does nothing more than perpetuate the sad, all-too-widely-held myth that government workers are lazy, inefficient and unwilling to work or assist.”

So, let’s clarify. Anyone who has been reading the B&G Report over time knows that we are real fans of public-sector managers and workers. We think most of them work far harder than they’re given credit for, and we never intended to indicate that the misuse of “out of the office” messages is particularly common. Our intention was to call attention to a misuse of technology that we have become aware is going on -- but not by most city and state workers, by any means. We certainly write about managerial issues that are taking place in a minority of cities from time to time, and this isn’t any different.

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