The Lincoln and Omaha city councils got together to complain again Wednesday.
They’ve been doing this every year for the past half dozen: At their annual joint meeting, inevitably the subject of employee salaries comes up. Then they all complain about the state law requiring that employees’ salaries be commensurate with employees in similar sized cities.
They commiserate and say they’re going to do something about it. They’re really, really going to do something about it this time. Maybe even go straighten out those state lawmakers. Get them to pass a bill, even.
And then they all go home and nothing comes of it.
Oh, sure last year some council members marched up to the state capitol and tried to convince lawmakers to do something about that nasty Commission of Industrial Relations — the governor-appointed board that settles wage disputes between cities and unions. The CIR is not to blame: they’re just carrying out the law, and the law virtually guarantees that employee salaries and benefits will rise, rise, rise. Especially when it’s legal to compare Lincoln’s salaries to Minneapolis’s.
Doesn’t matter if the city is broke (Omaha) or is struggling to pay for the burgeoning personnel costs (Lincoln). The law is the law. And the law was created in exchange for public employees giving up their right to strike.
And state lawmakers and various gatekeepers at the capitol don’t seem too interested in changing the law.
When I would suggest the Journal Star’s state capitol reporters write about it from that angle, they repeatedly told me the issue was DOA — dead on arrival. That lawmakers would never change the system.
Why? Is the Legislature not filled with a few former city council members or county commissioners who have some idea what’s going on in the hinterlands? Is this less of an issue in smaller towns? Or are certain powerful committee chairs blocking movement on the issue?
Perhaps a bigger question is why are the state’s two largest cities unable to get any traction on a critical issue in the Legislature? Do they not have enough lawmakers between them to get virtually anything they want accomplished?
Do their Democratic mayors — who were elected with lots of union dollars — talk big publicly but do nothing privately?
What exactly, is the problem?
Lincoln Councilman John Spatz says the stars are aligned this year, that change is coming.
Wake me up when the governor signs the bill.