A lot of people have asked, both online and in person, what we can do about the impasse. As more and more people — excluding, apparently, most of our legislators — are beginning to realize that this doesn’t just affect state employees, the outrage is building. I’ve mentioned a lot of suggestions before, but they bear repeating.
First and foremost, DO NOT STOP GOING TO WORK. As I have said many, many times before, this is unconditionally the worst possible thing you can do. Do not organize office-wide sick days, do not fail to show up, do not take paid time off without following your agency’s proper procedure … put simply, do everything in your power to continue going to work and doing your job. If the day comes where you can no longer afford to put gas in your car or pay for day care or some other equally immovable barrier, then communicate quickly and honestly with your supervisor. Yes, this is brutally unfair. I know. But if you stop going to work, or if you show up and refuse to do your job, you whittle away at our case for getting paid and may face disciplinary action. And since this is a group effort, if your coworkers are organizing a group sick day or anything of the sort, please talk some sense into them. We are all in this together.
CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS AND GOVERNOR. Project Vote Smart is a very simple way to find your elected officials. Simply type in your ZIP code and up pops their contact information. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know how your state government works; most people reading this probably don’t. It doesn’t matter — you have valid questions, you are a taxpayer, and you are entitled to answers. Be polite, but firm. They work for you — not the other way around. I dislike scripted calls, so here are some suggestions:
- Why hasn’t the budget been passed? Why are you months behind schedule?
- Now that Pennsylvania has violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying its employees on time, how will you explain to your constituents that as taxpayers, they will now have to pay massive liquidated damages because of your inability to pass a budget?
- Do you think I’m going to forget this when elections roll around?
- Are you taking the weekend off? Why?
CONTACT YOUR LOCAL MEDIA. An unfortunate fact of reality is that most media outlets will only run stories that impact a large number of their viewers. While TV stations, radio stations, and print publications around Central PA are reporting on the impasse daily, other outlets further from the capitol are giving us three sentences on page B-5. Contact your local TV station, radio station, and newspaper to ask them when they’ll be reporting on the budget next. And be nice — they are not the enemy. With only so much time in a newscast or space in the newspaper, they simply can’t cover stories that don’t have a big impact. So explain to them — calmly — why this affects everybody in Pennsylvania. And do it again the next day.
RE-EVALUATE YOUR FINANCES. You’re right; this step shouldn’t be necessary. But for most of us, every penny is going to matter. If you buy all your groceries at Wegman’s, it’s time to hit up Giant and Karns, or even Amelia’s and Aldi. Buy generic everything. Cell phones are a necessity for most of us these days, so make sure you’re getting your state employee monthly discount (18% on Verizon Wireless, 15% on Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T). There’s a ton of excellent real-world financial advice at Where Are You Now, a local site run by local tweeps @aaronaiken and @lindsay_faith.
SHARE YOUR MISERY. Well, okay — TRY to be optimistic about it (hey, I said “try”). See what your coworkers are doing. Maybe somebody’s brother’s cousin’s sister works at Dish Network, and they’re willing to quietly bump accounts into a “collections bypass” status. Hell, maybe somebody’s got a recipe for making lasagna out of Ramen noodles (if so, please let me know via the contact link above)!
DO NOT BLAME THE GOVERNOR. At least, not solely. Remember that the legislators are just as much at fault as Governor Rendell. And while it is true that technically the legislature hasn’t yet presented a bill for Rendell to sign, and thus his impact on the budget has been minimal, that’s exactly the point. Love him or hate him, he has considerable political clout within Pennsylvaina; he could make the legislature grow wings and fly away if he was so inclined.
Coincidentally, that seems to be what a lot of voters are planning for 2010 and 2012.