Publication:Colo Spgs Gazette; Date:Mar 17, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:13

our view



    Colorado Springs city government employees get substantial raises for not working when injured. They have a builtin financial incentive to stay home, though it’s not clear whether any indulge it.

    Workers’ compensation wages are not taxed by the federal government, and city employees receive 100 percent of their wages while injured and out of work. State law mandates the city pay only 66.67 percent, which is standard in the private sector.

    It’s just one of a variety inefficiencies in city government that is highlighted in research by The City Committee of Colorado Springs. The committee is a select group of business leaders that formed after Broadmoor President and CEO Steve Bartolin railed against city government inefficiencies in a letter that went viral in 2010. The letter posited that no business could sustain itself if run like city government.

    “Nobody wants to get injured, so I don’t think it’s an incentive for workers’ compensation claims,” said Ann Crossey, director of human resources for the city government.

    “It might create an incentive to not come back to work as quickly.”

    Consider an average unmarried employee, with no exemptions, making taxable city wages of $60,000. If that employee went on workers’ compensation in 2010 for six months, the employee would enjoy a raise of $7,391.82 — for not working — because the wages would not be subject to federal income taxes. By not working for a year, the employee would receive a raise of $14,783.64.

Meanwhile, a private-sector worker making a taxable income of $60,000 would receive only $40,002 in annual workers’ compensation wages — $5,214.36 less than earned in a year while working and paying $14,783.64 in federal income taxes. That means we have an annual disparity of $19,998 that separates the injured city worker from the injured private-sector worker making identical wages. Obviously the disparity gets worse when comparing employees in higher income brackets.

    Do not despair, because workers’ compensation composes a relatively minute portion of the city budget. Besides, the city plans to change its long-lived policy. The disparity will continue, but in April city employees who get injured and cannot work will receive only 85 percent of their full wages. That will reduce the public/private disparity to only 18.33 percent.

    Crossey said Arvada, Aurora, Boulder, Fort Collins, Pueblo, Greeley, Lakewood and Westminster all pay 100 percent wages to employees on workers’ compensation. Denver pays 80 percent.

    “The reason it’s a common practice is the fact police and fire employees are at high risk, and those are a lot of our employees” Crossey said. “They also cannot earn overtime while they are not working.”

    Sure, but private-sector workers can’t earn overtime when they’re injured and out of work.

    And while we’re grateful for cops and firefighters, neither works in what the federal Bureau of Labor and Statistics defines as the 10 most-dangerous jobs — fishing, logging, piloting aircraft, farming and ranching, roofing, steel work, garbage collection, machinery repair and maintenance, driving trucks traveling sales, and construction. That’s mostly private-sector work.

    The City Committee wants to make Colorado Springs a city of the future, by making it a model of efficiency.

    This column will feature additional committee findings and recommendations in future editions of The Gazette. Mostly, the committee wants a cultural change in local government. It advocates for department managers and politicians who look for ways to do the most with the least — just like business leaders with companies that must produce more than they consume.

    Anyone has the skill to spend. Wise individuals, who create wealth and jobs, are lavish on assets and miserly on liabilities. City employees and politicians have done a lot right. Our cops and firefighters are among the best in the country — just like the city’s hospital system and utility.

    Like any business that wants to thrive, however, city government has abundant opportunity to improve. Let’s elect and encourage public servants who intuitively distinguish assets from liabilities. If that happens, taxpayers will have no compunction with investing in their community.