Time for a tighter belt

“Times are tough. People need to make sacrifices. I just don’t want to be one of them.”

And so goes the familiar refrain whenever the subjects of cutbacks, furloughs and salary reductions arise. 

State coffers are in serious financial jeopardy. Louisville Metro’s budget is bleeding red ink. Almost everyone agrees corners need to be deeply cut. Too bad the prevailing attitude is often “not my corner.”

Faced with a mayoral dictate to cut $1.3 million from Louisville Metro Police Department’s operating budget, Chief Robert White imposed higher fees for officers with take-home cruisers. The Fraternal Order of Police resisted, lawyered up and has so far been granted a restraining order to prohibit the move.

Protestors rallied, held a candlelight vigil and bagpipes sarcastically played “Taps” when the city’s oldest firehouse closed this past weekend, a move that leaders say will purportedly save $500,000. Mayor Jer better not count his money yet, though: Two groups have filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction.

Otter Creek Park friends and horseback riders have banded together in effort to reopen their favorite stomping ground. While comprehending the city’s financial challenges, these folks are also not willing to sacrifice.

Once corrections officers were exempted from the mayor’s mandatory four-day furloughs for city employees, the Teamsters union balked at its members having to take unpaid leave. Talk is that we can expect picket lines.

Three of the 26 Metro Council members think their legislative aides are extra special and thus are refusing to include them in the workforce furloughs.

Smokers are irked because they feel they’re being singled out with the proposed 70-cent tax hike on cigarettes.

State beer distributors and their associations are carping about discussions concerning raising the wholesale excise tax on beer, wine and spirits.

Let’s not forget the United Auto Workers. Union heads have publicly agreed that Big Auto needs to revise its long-term business model; still, it’s fighting the push for union members to take salary and retirement benefit concessions today instead of years from now.

And every time Gov. Beshear submits new proposals, announces projected deficits, or mentions the possibility of furloughs or layoffs, he’s lambasted for being a fearmonger who’s exaggerating.

“We could all share the burden. Wouldn’t it be better to have a small raise in the state sales tax?”

Hell no! The socialists hoping to spread the pain can just pipe down. Even though this response might seem to contradict my assertion that we all need to have a stake in rectifying our economic situation, today’s fiscal problems are the end result of three factors: a decline in the revenue upon which we’ve grown to depend, the lack of saving and staying current on debt obligations, and overspending. Simply throwing more taxpayer money at our problems might treat the symptoms, but it won’t cure the disease.

“OK, do something else. Just don’t involve me.”

Unfortunately, the scope of our fiscal problems as a nation, commonwealth and metro is far beyond exempting any one group. We’re going to have to universally cowboy up, pull up our big-boy pants and take a hit. Easy for me to say? Yes and no. While I don’t have a take-home car and haven’t been asked to forgo a raise or take days off without pay, I’m far from immune. Like many in the private sector, I go to work wondering if my job and those occupied by my coworkers will continue to exist. Nobody’s irreplaceable. And my experience in the news and entertainment industries has conditioned me to keep an empty cardboard box under my desk at all times. Seriously.

No doubt, this sucks. Yes, it’s unfair. Most certainly, you have every right to be pissed. But unless you have a magic wand (and let’s face it, President-elect Barack Obama does not), nothing else but collective belt-tightening is going to fix our short-term problems and contribute to solving them over the long term. You can’t be a little bit pregnant and we can’t dabble in economic recovery. Somebody has to take a hit.

Given the breadth of this financial crisis, that’s probably a lot of somebodies — including police, fire, citizens, smokers, drinkers, alcohol purveyors, civil servants, consumers and various unions. None of these new limits are welcomed and they come with some pain, but they are imperative if we are going to heal our fiscal wounds and move on to better times.