Gov. Walker is that rare political leader who actually means what he says and then does it. It is remarkable how many people are again and again surprised each time he follows through on another of his clearly stated goals.
These same folks, and especially local leaders such as Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, and state Rep. Mark Pocan all seem determined to view anything our new governor does as a “vicious personal and political attack” (on public employees, unions, the middle class, history, etc. etc.) when in fact, what the governor is proposing -- while a sharp and aggressive change in policy -- is not at all personal.
Someone once asked Willie Sutton “why he kept robbing banks” and his answer was simply: “That’s where the money is.” While perhaps not a great analogy, it is simply true that the vast bulk of the money in state and local and school government is in employee salaries and benefits. Walker’s budget bill provisions, when fully extended to local governments and schools, will yield pretty close to a billion dollars per year in savings. Double that for the biennium and you’ve got much of the budget deficit covered.
That’s the policy. The policy is being proposed because that’s where the money is.
Does anybody really believe that the unions would have been willing to bargain these concessions?
Can anybody come up with better tools to finally start to fix the bleeding pensions of Milwaukee city, county and schools -- whose unfunded liabilities threaten the whole state?
I believe that Walker’s proposal will pass, largely intact. The alternative is thousands of layoffs at the state level alone. And many more layoffs locally.
Local governments and schools will thus have significant new power and tools to control their spending -- and they’re going to need them because we all know that state aids must and will be reduced. Local governments and schools across the state will be able to meet these cuts largely without laying off their valuable employees. Beginning teachers will stay on the job, human services funding will not get slashed as deeply, and the public employees, while taking home about 8 percent less, will still have good jobs and enviable benefits.
That’s the deal and it will probably work out fairly well everywhere in the state except for Dane County and maybe the city of Madison.
You see, Dane County’s leaders, full of good intentions, recently rushed through a new four-year contract for all their union employees just, they say, to “protect” them during Walker’s time as governor.
Now Mayor Dave, in his most progressive pandering posture, proposes to hold an emergency City Council meeting on Thursday to pass new union contracts to again, he says, protect our city and employees from the “assault” by Walker.
How’s this going to work out?
Well, Dane County’s new union contracts (the ones the County Board chair brags will save a million dollars), are, according to the county finance director, going to cost at least a net of $4.7 million in new dollars yearly. That’s because there is a $6 million, or 3 percent, wage increase for next year. Plus, the county will cover the entire cost of health care premiums and the full cost of employee pensions -- for the next four years.
Doing the math, Dane County may have a $30 million hole in their budget for next year: $10 million deficit to start, $6 million in new salary costs and a foregone hole of $16 million from employee benefits that every other county, school and municipality will have the power to access.
So, if these four-year contracts stick, Dane County could be facing deep cuts or some 500 layoffs!
And this is what the city of Madison seeks to emulate?
Recall that Walker has, along with promises of new tools and powers for local governments, repeatedly promised limits on property tax increases coupled with the budget cuts.
I, for one, believe the governor means what he says. Big property tax increases will not be an option -- thank goodness.
Jonathan Barry is a former Dane County executive and state representative.