Does Cutting Benefits Really Help Taxpayers?

Flagler County’s commissioners may need a crash course in Ethics 101 posthaste. The Saturday edition of the News-Tribune reports on May 17, 2008: “Beginning Oct. 1, part-time Flagler county employees may have to pay for health insurance” (1B). Full-time employees will continue to get full benefits because, after all, they work more.

A basic principle in ethical reasoning is to try out the “look and feel” of one’s decision from the perspective of all persons affected by that decision. County Administrator Coffey, according to the article, thinks that benefits for part-timers would be unfair to full-timers. Oh, really? Since when must someone’s well-being be reduced so that others will feel well? By that same reasoning, I think we should reduce Coffey’s salary seriously since my not-so-high salary makes me feel treated unfairly. It’s the same reasoning with the shoe on another foot.

But let’s suppose that full-timers will now feel elated indeed. We know that Coffey believes taxpayers to be elated. But at what price? I would really like for Mr. Coffey to do the math here. How much will I save as individual taxpayer in order to live with the relative deprivation from the security of life on the part of part-time employees? Surely, we can express this taxpayer elation in dollars and cents as weighed against the increase in financial obligation on the part of part-timers. Determining the balance of pain and elation in an overall manner is also a part of basic ethical reasoning.

But let me consider another angle here. Perhaps these part-timers do not work as much because they do not want to work that much. Perhaps they are independently wealthy and engage in a job merely as a kind of occupational therapy. In that case, I’d be solidly behind Administrator Coffey’s proposal. So, perhaps the Administrator should also report how many part-time employees receive these benefits frivolously, being so well endowed financially that they really don’t need those benefits.

Hmmm. That gives me another thought. Perhaps one should use a different criterion as line of demarcation between which employees should and which employees should not receive benefits. Suppose we use as demarcation the employee’s ability to pay for insurance. Administrator Coffey, I would presume, will make sufficient money to do without benefits. So might be many other full-time employees. We are thus not depriving them of any securities if we were to cut their benefits. The taxpayers would be happy; the part-timers would be happy; most full-timers would be happy; and the ones who are most endowed by income would feel no serious pain. Much better result, no?