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Obama: Public Employees Should Not be "Vilified"

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President Barack Obama says public employees should not have their rights infringed upon as states look for ways to cut spending. 

Speaking to the nation’s governors, Obama says he understands the fiscal challenges facing cash-strapped states and says everyone should be prepared “to give something up.”  But he says that shouldn’t mean public employees are “vilified” during budget debates.

The governors are in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the National Governors Association.

From AP, here is an excerpt of the President’s remarks to the National Governors Association this morning:

Those of you in this room are on the front lines of this budget challenge.  As the Recovery Act funds that saw you through the last two years are phasing out – and it’s undeniable that the Recovery Act helped every single state represented in this room manage through the recession – you face some very tough choices on everything from schools to prisons to pensions. 

I also know many of you are making decisions regarding your public workforce, and I know how difficult that can be.  Freezing the salaries of federal employees for two years isn’t something I wanted to do, but I did it because of the very tough fiscal situation we’re in.  Everyone should be prepared to give up something in order to solve our budget challenges, and I think most public servants agree with that.  In fact, many public employees have already agreed to cuts in several of your states. 

But let me also say this: it does no one any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon.  We need to attract the best and the brightest to public service.  These are times that demand it.  We’re not going to attract the best teachers for our kids, for example, if they only make a fraction of what other professionals make.  We’re not going to convince the bravest Americans to put their lives on the line as police officers or firefighters if we don’t properly reward that bravery.  So yes, we need a conversation about pensions and Medicare and Medicaid and other promises we’ve made as a nation. 

But as we make decisions about our budgets going forward, I believe everyone should be at the table, and the concept of shared sacrifice should prevail.  If all the pain is borne by one group – whether it’s workers, or seniors, or the poor – while the wealthiest among us keep getting tax cuts, we’re not doing the right thing.  I think that’s something Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on. 


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