About those Wolf vaccine incentives …

About those Wolf vaccine incentives …

The first question is: Who thinks up this stuff?

The second is: Why do taxpayers put up with this stuff?

The third: Why do taxpayers put up with the people who think up this stuff?

We refer, of course, to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s edict of last week to grant state employees under his jurisdiction five days off or the equivalent in pay as an incentive to become fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

As The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported it:

“The incentive will apply, Wolf’s office said, to about 63,000 workers in the main-line departments in the executive branch of the state government: PennDOT clerks; auditors in the Department of Human Services; state police and corrections officers; park rangers and permit reviewers at the Department of Environmental Protection, to name a few.”

But the newspaper also reported:

“That dichotomy [of only select state workers being covered] has created fresh divides between contract workers and regular staff; employees who have public-facing jobs and those who worked from home through most of the pandemic and, of course, those who see the incentive as a lavish gift on the taxpayers’ tab and those, like Wolf and state union leaders, who see it as an appropriate investment in the workforce.”

The governor aww-gosh-geezed his way through a KDKA Radio interview on his plan, noting “I’m not sure why it was such a big deal.”

“Everyone’s out trying to attract and retain good employees and making employees feel safe is one of the issues that I think we have to grapple with. So, I think it was a pretty common sense thing,” he told the radio station’s Kevin Battle.

But, and true to government form, such programs aren’t very effective, reports The Wall Street Journal:

“Financial incentives, public-health messages and other tactics used by state and local governments and employers to encourage people to get the Covid-19 vaccine didn’t have a noticeable impact on vaccination rates among those who already were hesitant about getting the shot, new research shows.

“What’s more, the strategies sometimes had the opposite effect of their intended design on certain groups of people, illustrating how difficult it has been to lift U.S. vaccination rates as the pandemic drags on, according to a recent study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research.”

Wolf’s plan gives administration employees up to five days paid leave if they are or become fully vaccinated by Dec. 31. The leave must be taken between Dec. 20 and March 31.

And if they choose not to take any or all five days? Well, betcha-by-golly-wow, they’ll receive a lump-sum payment of the value of the unused days. (That’s in addition to a prior incentive the governor offered to employees of one paid day off for getting vaccinated, The Patriot-News reminded).

Now, some will argue that if the effort truly is a nonstarter and won’t produce the kind of increased vaccination rate Wolf claims it will, it won’t cost anywhere near the up to $24.5 million price tag of full compliance (minus, that is, as the newspaper reports, the uncounted value of “the missed time at work for those taking the time.”)

By the way, Wolf says he thinks the cost can be absorbed in agencies’ current-year budgets.

Well, if that’s so, those agencies have too much of your money, don’t they?

All this said, the larger point remains why the governor proposed a program that, demonstrably, does not work.

Oh, we forgot – we’re talking about government, aren’t we?

But there’s another, even more important bottom line here:

The preponderance of evidence suggests that among those who receive the first, second and booster vaccinations, there is a one-day period of mild to moderate reaction to the shot, an indication that a body’s immune system is being triggered.

Thus, a one-day time-off blessing for those who have exhausted their paid time off might indeed be appropriate. But they should not be paid extra for not taking the time.

Government has no business incentivizing goldbricking. And taxpayers have no business paving those bricks with gold.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).