More thanks, less blame

Public employees, particularly those who work in state government, can be excused for feeling a bit under siege lately.

These days, they shoulder too much blame for budgets that are out of whack. Whether it’s over collective bargaining rights, pension benefits or health insurance plans, state employees are unfairly singled out as a problem.

The overwhelming majority of them deserve the gratitude of the public they serve. Despite unpaid furloughs that have lightened so many of their paychecks in recent years, and layoffs that — like workers in the private sector — have forced them to do more with less, most continue to work hard and with pride delivering the services we all depend on but so often take for granted.

It was a state employee, Tony Radulescu, whose loss was mourned at a public gathering Thursday in Kent. The veteran Washington State Patrol trooper was shot to death during a traffic stop last month, reminding us of other officers lost in the line of duty, and of the risks police at the state, county and city levels take protecting us every day.

It was another state employee, Department of Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl, who was slain while at her post in the chapel of the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe just over a year ago.

Also last year, Department of Natural Resources worker Sam Gaydeski was killed accidentally while clearing brush in Jefferson County, and Department of Transportation worker Billy Rhynalds died after being struck by a wind-toppled tree while directing traffic around a flooding roadway.

Ed Johanson, a 20-year state park ranger, was killed in a traffic collision while driving home from work last month. The driver of the other vehicle was arrested on suspicion of vehicular homicide, and authorities say drugs or alcohol may have been involved. Johanson wasn’t killed on the job, but he had recently taken a job at a park two hours away from his home because of department downsizing, making for a long commute.

And memories are still painfully fresh of the shooting death of National Park Ranger Margaret Anderson, killed in January by a suspect involved in an earlier shooting.

To be sure, public-employee compensation and benefits are legitimate and serious policy issues. Government budgets must serve a variety of needs and be sustainable.

But as debates continue over these issues, let’s keep in mind the people behind the budget numbers, those who have answered a call to public service. The great majority perform their jobs well, and with pride. They deserve our respect, and our thanks.

Editor’s note: The original version of this editorial incorrectly reported the site of Department of Transportation worker Billy Rhynalds’ death.