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HICKS COLUMN: Robbing taxpayers on holiday

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Did you hear the one about the government employee who skipped lunch to get some extra work done?

No, you didn't -- because it's never happened.

Bad joke, but that's the typical rap on public-sector employees. They are stereotyped as overpaid and unproductive. Of course, people who think that way hate the gubmint anyway, and assume -- wrongly -- that anyone associated with it is worthless.

So it makes perfect sense that government would perpetuate that perception by handing out holiday vacation days like candy. As Glenn Smith reported on Sunday, the state, as well as Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties -- and the city of Charleston -- gave their employees three days off with pay for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And the day after.

Since when do we celebrate Boxing Day in the United States? What we ought to do is find out who thought this was a good idea and box them upside the head. They didn't do government employees any favors.

Closed for business

The naysayers and government critics are absolutely right this time: This is stupid.

In the current economic climate, with people lucky enough to have jobs working harder than ever, it doesn't sit well to see folks living off tax dollars taking off the better part of a week with pay. Because of the way Christmas fell, these folks got a Friday, Monday and Tuesday off -- five days in a row when you take the weekend, the actual holiday, into account.

"It's getting a little excessive," says state Rep. Chip Limehouse. "In looking at that list, there may be some duplication. It might be good to go back and re-evaluate the number of paid days off people get."

This is basically a case of the right hand not knowing what the hand farther to the right (since there is no left hand in this state) is doing. The General Assembly made Christmas Eve a paid holiday in 2009. Maybe that makes sense, since everyone is trying to get out early anyway, and few people are doing business that day. Well, other than Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

But the day after Christmas? It's funny that the state gives that as a holiday, seeing as how little more than a decade ago it didn't even recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

What about Arbor Day?

Government employees haven't had it great lately. There have been layoffs and furloughs, and many of them haven't seen raises in years. Like most of us. They deserve something, but not this kind of largesse -- which cost the state $22 million.

Limehouse says perhaps the state should designate various elective holidays, and give workers the option to take off for a set number of them. That's reasonable and will keep the government running.

Of course, any state that offers the Day After Thanksgiving and Confederate Memorial Day already has its bases covered. Throw in Arbor Day and let 'em pick 10 or 11. But 13 is a bit much.

Of course, given the state's -- and governor's -- focus of late, perhaps we do need one more holiday on the state calendar:

Bastille Day.

Follow Brian Hicks on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.

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