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Column: Protecting Residents in Tax, Road Debates

Congress finally has acted to ensure payroll tax relief for 170 million individuals and families through the rest of 2012. This additional tax relief is critical for maintaining the momentum of the economic recovery, and Northern Virginians will realize an average savings of $2,000 per household.

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Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11)

As part of that legislation, unemployment benefits will be extended for 2.3 million Americans. That action alone will boost GDP by 1 percent, which is significant in the current economic climate. Though our regional unemployment rate is about half of the national average, we still have thousands of our neighbors who are struggling to find work, and these benefits offer a vital lifeline to keep them and their families afloat during tight times.

In addition, the bill recently passed by Congress will preserve access to affordable health care for 48 million seniors by preventing a scheduled cut in the Medicare reimbursement rate for their doctors.

As you know, Congress has been debating these issues for the past several months and just before the New Year enacted a short-term extension. While I have consistently supported extending tax relief and benefits for seniors and the unemployed, I have strongly objected to the way in which federal employees have been singled out to pay for certain provisions in this bill.

It will increase the out-of-pocket retirement costs for newly-hired federal employees by 300 percent. It is not fair to ask only one group of Americans to bear the burden of reducing our nation’s deficit. Of course, such actions fall disproportionately on our community, which is home to the third largest concentration of federal employees in the nation.

Like most Americans, public servants do not object to sharing in the sacrifice, but shared sacrifice should mean shared sacrifice. Already federal employees have contributed $60 billion to deficit reduction by enduring a 2-year pay freeze while no others have been asked to sacrifice.

This is just the latest in a string of assaults on our dedicated public servants. In fact, the major transportation bill now being considered by the House would raise retirement costs on current and future federal employees on top of the increase just adopted. That bill also would reduce their overall retirement benefit by 40 percent.

There is no justification for funding portions of our nation’s vital transportation infrastructure on the backs of our federal employees, particularly given the fact that the bill will reduce the existing level of federal highway funding for Virginia by $361 million.

Enough is enough. It is outrageous for the House majority to repeatedly foist a disproportionate burden onto federal employees for funding the very programs and services they provide to our constituents every day. These actions are creating an environment in which few will be interested in public service because the pay and benefits are so far below those in the private sector.

Federal pay already lags behind the private sector by 26 percent, according to the Department of Labor, and over the next decade 47 percent of the federal workforce is eligible to retire. How do we expect to protect our borders, our food supply and our seniors, to name just a few, if we continue to hollow out the federal workforce?

Extending tax relief, providing benefits for the unemployed, protecting our seniors and investing in our roads and mass transit systems is the right thing to do, but not at the expense of our neighbors who are being singled out solely because they happen to work for the federal government.