Our view: Mayor should share increase in health care

It’s a bit ironic that Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George got a 30 percent increase on the cost of large city garbage bags put into next year’s budget. No matter how much residents pay, they can’t get rid of the trash he created by unnecessarily boosting the cost of his own tax-funded health insurance.

As Jerry Lynott reported this week, city council voted to up the cost of those blue city garbage bags, from $2 to $2.60 for a 30-gallon bag and from $1.25 to $1.85 for the 15-gallon bags. To be clear, in and of itself this is not a bad thing; in fact, there are good arguments for such a move.

America remains an extremely wasteful nation. One simple example: Plastic straws. We use and toss out about 500 million a day, according to thelastplasticstraw.org. That’s 1.5 straws for every man woman and child in the country.

If Washington passed a law banning lips from publicly touching the rims of glasses and paper cups, the outcry would be unending, but the number of straws we use and toss would probably remain unchanged. And that’s a very small part of the stuff we throw away that we never really needed.

Increasing the user fee for garbage collection makes some sense because it directly shows people that trash costs money, which in turn should be an incentive to make choices that generate less trash. If you have a back yard, compost fruit and vegetable waste. Deliberately buy things packaged in recyclable materials. And in a city with weekly con-mingled curbside pick up, recycle everything you can.

Alas, the garbage cost increase is not occurring in a vacuum. In fact, it puts the lie to one claim you’ll doubtless hear a lot as the city budget is finalized: That the $49.4 million spending plan comes without a tax increase. True, there is no property tax increase, but bumping up the garbage bag fee to raise an estimated $400,000 more for the city is a tax increase of a different sort, as is a proposed increase in parking meter fees to raise another $475,000.

And both come as George lamely defends an 11 percent increase in the cost of his health insurance, from $25,118 to $27,909. Not to begrudge the mayor his coverage, and not to deny the constant upward push of insurance rates in general, but as Lynott noted, it comes while insurance for City Council (a debatable perk to begin with), police administration and waste collection go down.

More importantly, George is 66 and eligible for Medicaid, yet not only accepts city coverage but opts for the more costly Preferred Provider Organization plan that pays for use of doctors and facilities outside of the insurance company’s network (in this case, Highmark).

George is also eligible for, if not already collecting, a pension from his years with the city police department.

Under all these circumstances, the mayor who gets $82,000 in pay from taxpayers should at least use his own income to cover the increase in his city-provided health insurance.

Do the right thing. Share the pain.