The Journal Sentinel's report that legislators (as well as other public employees) can walk away from the job with tens of thousands in dollars in unused sick pay to be used to buy health insurance (at prices that would probably otherwise be unavailable to them) has elicited all the normal responses from those who feel honor bound to defend anything and everything that a public employee union might negotiate. This is smart, they say, because it encourages people to fight off minor ailments and come to work. It is good, they say, because health insurance is good. It is justified, they conclude, because this is something offered "in exchange" for lower wages.
If it were smart, we'd expect to see private companies do the same thing. They don't, but yet manage not to be paralyzed by employee absenteeism. In fact, the most annoying thing about the provision of this benefit to legislators and professional employees is that it probably has little impact on whether or not they take off. Professionals who must complete their work whether or not they are sick tend not to count - or worry about - sick days because no one does their job while they are gone. Thus, the legislators in question did not claim sick days while, for example, they were home recovering from bypass surgery. (Neither, by the way, did I, but I am not claiming extra pay for it.)
It is good for people to have health insurance, but it is not good for the state to overpay its employees. This is a benefit that is rarely found in the private sector.
That might not be so bad if it truly was negotiated in return for savings elsewhere, but I have heard that one too often. The "extra" thing that public employees get is always something that flies below the radar. It is something that is paid out as a fringe or that is deferred into retirement so that no one pays attention and it need not be accounted for. Other than for certain (and relatively few) highly compensated professional positions, it is not evident that cash compensation for public employees is below market. What is clear is that non-cash compensation is generally through the roof.