A QUICK QUESTION for Baltimore City workers seeking hefty pay raises: Where would you ask Mayor Martin O'Malley to find the money?
Should he siphon it from garbage collection and city clean-up efforts? No way. The city's already rank with smelly, trash-strewn lots.
How about stealing it from public safety? That makes no sense, because the "city that bleeds" is on pace to record more than 300 murders for the 11th straight year.
Parks and recreation? In a city where some parents encourage kids to play in the streets rather than in the parks, that would be an indefensible decision.
In short, there's just no reasonable way for Mr. O'Malley to come up with millions of dollars for city workers without crippling his ability to deal with Baltimore's most pressing problems.
The city is in dire financial straits now, and doesn't have brighter days ahead. A $59 million shortfall looms just a few years off. Mr. O'Malley needs to be looking for ways to cut costs, not balloon them.
The unions that represent city workers know this. But they're still squealing about unfairness. They point to raises for city police, City Council members and the mayor as proof that they deserve more.
Those arguments are bogus. Police are the most important city employees, with the most dangerous jobs. It's ridiculous to compare their needs to those of clerks and janitors or even firefighters.
And the City Council and mayor are only eligible for salary increases every four years. Would other city workers agree to wait that long for their next pay raise?
There's another issue lurking in the background of this debate, too. It has to do with how city employees are evaluated and rewarded. Right now, unions negotiate all pay increases, and everyone shares equally in the raises. Bad employees get just as much as good ones, removing any real incentives to do good work.
If the city had better methods of measuring performance, that could change. (Earlier this summer, the Greater Baltimore Committee issued a report recommending this change.)
Outstanding employees could get raises while those who do poor work (or don't even show up for work) could be handled differently. That's how most businesses work. It's how some very efficient governments operate.
Rather than haggling over what city workers should get this year, shouldn't the conversation on this topic be about moving toward a system that serves all city workers -- and taxpayers -- better?