Dennis Persica: Politicians’ public pay can be costly

One of the ironies of our current economic situation is that we would be doing a lot better if we weren’t losing so many public-sector employees. According to federal employment figures released Friday, 202,000 private-sector jobs were created in June. But since the number of government employees dropped that month, the net job gains were 195,000.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, governments have shed 65,000 jobs over the past year. The pro-business forces who have railed against government spending find themselves looking at the unintended consequence of an economy that might be doing better if those 65,000 people still had jobs.

While rank-and-file government workers see their livelihoods threatened, elected officials are finding that government employment is still a lucrative gig.

Each of the seven New Orleans City Council members, for example, gets an Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy to drive them around. That’s a cost of $420,000 a year, The Advocate reported earlier this week.

Imagine what Sheriff Marlin Gusman could do with that nearly a half-million dollars if he didn’t have to spend it on chauffeurs. Conceivably, he could add it to the $600,000 he’s already spending each year on pest control. That way he could make sure there’d be not even a microbe alive to pester the residents of his prison multiplex. In case you missed it, that’s how much Gusman has spent on pest control since 2010, according to this newspaper.

One local pest control operator found that figure astounding. He told The Advocate that for that money, he could treat the Superdome, the adjacent New Orleans Arena and another Superdome.

Did I mention that Gusman paid that money to a company owned by one of his campaign contributors? That might be important.

Meanwhile, just across the lake in St. Tammany Parish — a bastion of Republicanism — the saga of part-time Coroner Peter Galvan has unfolded. Galvan gets $200,000 a year in salary.

But he also reportedly has two take-home cars paid for by the taxpayers. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind having a deputy or two to help with the driving.

There also are allegations that public money was spent on groceries and unnecessary trips. The office is being probed by a federal grand jury.

Last year, the coroner overspent his budget by 61 percent, according to a private audit. No fiscal conservatism at play there, that’s for sure.

On the other hand, though, state Republicans should be given credit for passing a law that restricts the coroner’s ability to spend public money. It was introduced by state Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, and was signed into law by the state’s GOP standard-bearer, Gov. Bobby Jindal.

But Galvan has brought in the lawyers now, filing suit to challenge the measure’s constitutionality. Lucrative legal fees can be expected on all sides of the case.

Trying to tamp down government spending is like a game of Whack-a-Mole. Once you get it knocked down in one place, it pops up somewhere else.

St. Tammany residents haven’t forgotten former Assessor Patricia Schwartz Core, whose office rang up more than $250,000 in credit card purchases over four years. The Times-Picayune reported in 2011 that the office had spent more than $10,000 a year on restaurant meals alone, including purchases of alcohol prohibited by state law.

You can’t help but wonder if we’d be in a better place now if those 65,000 public workers had kept their jobs, and their bosses had been turned out instead.

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column, he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@gmail.com.