Does anyone even know the actual meaning of “incentive” anymore?

Apparently, Alamance County has a number of public officials who have decided to revise the meaning of the word “incentives.”

According to the traditional dictionary meaning, “incentive” is supposed to be “a thing that motivates or encourages one to do something.”

Now, the implication of that – to motivate or encourage one to do something – is that the “something” is some action or result that the individual had not already undertaken.

But we’re continually seeing a series of recommendations where local government officials have wanted to spend tax dollars to reward actions that have already been completed.

This week, it was town manager Richard Roedner in Elon, who suggested to his board of aldermen that since half of the town’s municipal employees (about 30 employees) aren’t yet vaccinated against Covid-19, the town government should consider paying them each $200 to go get their vaccination shot.

We’re not quite sure that a $200 bribe, or incentive, is sufficient to motivate people to change their behavior inasmuch as the very possibility of life itself (compared to possible death from the disease) would seem to us to be a sufficient incentive to go get a Covid-19 vaccination shot (actually two) to prevent, or at least reduce the severity of, potential Covid-19 infection.

But then, “to be fair,” as Roedner envisions it, he suggests that the town should consider paying the same $200 “incentive” to the 30 or so town employees who have already been vaccinated.

Now what sense does that make?

Frankly, the idea of paying people to do that which they probably should do in their own best interest is puzzling to us.

But the idea of paying people who have already acted in their own best interest – i.e., paying out a $200 payment for those who are already vaccinated – is simply bewildering, indeed.

But Roedner’s proposed means to waste about $6,000 in town tax dollars is no worse than larger amounts that school board members decided to spend on another ex post facto “incentive,” or “bonus,” for specified employees.

Last month, the school board first awarded $10,000 “signing bonuses” to teachers who agree to take one of the nine hard-to-fill Adapted Curriculum teacher vacancies in the Alamance-Burlington school system.

Then a week or so later, the school board decided to provide $5,000 “retention bonuses” to 32 existing Adapted Curriculum teachers who had not left – nor had even necessarily ever threatened to leave.

We just don’t understand how it makes any sense to provide retroactive “bonuses” to people who didn’t do anything special or distinctive to earn a bonus – other than stay in the jobs they already held.

And follow typical school system math: $90,000 bonuses to fill nine vacant positions and $160,000 to reward those who were already on the ABSS payroll in those same positions.

Strangely enough, it was Sandy Ellington-Graves – who, we had hoped, would be a more fiscally responsible member of the board where fiscal responsibility is a foreign concept – who worried aloud that giving bonuses to new employees would offend existing ones – unless they got something, too.

That same, misplaced sense of “fairness” is what prompted Elon’s Roedner this week, he said, to want to give a bonus to previously-vaccinated employees, as well as to those currently unvaccinated employees who might respond to his $200 incentive.

In general, it seems to us that all of these so-called incentives plans amount to the same, old government spending philosophy: give more of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

Any rationale will do.

The specter of COVID-19, in particular, seems to bring out the most illogical reactions, just as it did in Elon this week.

It was also used as the justification by Alamance County’s commissioners to agree last month to provide paid sick leave to all county staff members who miss work due to COVID-19 – both those vaccinated, as recommended by the county’s administrators to be the proposed policy, and those who are not, who benefited anyway based on commissioners’ ultimate generosity with taxpayer dollars.

So, should days off for health complications cover those who receive the vaccine, those who haven’t, or both?

Here, again, government’s answer seems to be: give it to everyone.

Call it an “incentive” or not, officials just wanted to dish out the money.

That’s also what Pam Thompson suggested several weeks ago when county officials suggested a Covid-related benefit be restricted to county employees who had been vaccinated.

Commendations to commissioners chairman John Paisley who was the only commissioner to oppose the expanded paid Covid sick leave policy to both vaccinated and unvaccinated.
“We are not in a position to, and do not want to, require anybody to take the vaccination,” the board’s chairman said. Fair enough, we thought.

“But we don’t want to pay somebody who doesn’t get the vaccine,” Paisley added, which we also thought wise and reasonable. But he was overruled by a 4-1 vote of other commissioners.

Where will it end?

And, by the way, whatever happened to supposed health privacy laws for government workers? How are local governments supposed to be giving out benefits based on Covid-vaccination status – without (intrusively) finding out what an employee’s vaccination status is?

Isn’t that still a private matter?

Some governments are even talking about “mandating” Covid vaccinations for their employees. We’re not at all sure that will pass Constitutional muster.

Let’s just call all of these so-called incentives policies what they really are: more pay raises and ever-expanding benefits for government employees.