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Student loan breaks for public sector lawyers a bad idea
Jul 20, 2005 12:00 am
IN OUR OPINION
All too often, leaders in government at all levels attempt to find legislative reasons to make exceptions or lower expectations for their peers in public service.
Whether it is doing away with performance accountability for public school teachers or easing revolving door restrictions on lawmakers turned lobbyists, legislators are far too inclined to make life easier for their fellow public servants.
It is a wrong-headed trend. Public service is not suppose to be easy.
That is why a proposed law to forgive a portion of the students' loans for public defenders and prosecutors sponsored in part by 6th District Congressman Bart Gordon is a bad idea.
Under the Prosecutors and Public Defenders Incentive Act, a law would pay off up to $6,000 a year in student loans for public defenders and prosecutors that stay in their jobs a certain amount of time.
Young lawyers in these public offices cite what they say is low-starting pay in the $40,000 range versus high-student loans for law school in the $100,000 range as a challenge to remaining in their public service role.
The problem with a program of this nature is once it gets rolling there is no end in sight.
There are countless classes of public servants in this country who could probably use help paying off their education other than lawyers. From government planners to law enforcement officers to educators, many public callings require advanced degrees. Where will the tab for the federal government end?
In truth, this notion flies in the very face of what it means to be a public servant. Serving the public is not suppose to be easy. It is also not suppose to be a calling where one "gets rich."
Being a prosecutor or public defender is an honor, just as being a cop or school teacher is an honor. If a young attorney wants to be debt free and financially independent, moving on after some time to private practice is appropriate.
So is making sacrifices when one accepts a pay check made up of tax revenues.
Many who choose the private sector have an equally challenging lot in life right out of college. First time jobs that pay in the low $20,000 are an equal burden to new workers who may carry $40,000 or more in student debts from their undergraduate years.
For instance, there is no federal program to pay off the student loans of nonprofit managers or clergy. Arguably, those folks make the same kind of contribution to society as public sector lawyers.
This proposed legislation is a case of over thinking a problem society cannot buy off or legislate away. Public service is not easy. It involves sacrifice. In return, one enjoys a very fulfilling work experience.
Life is full of trade offs. Congress needs to leave some things in our society alone.