The state is cutting in half the security team that protects Gov. Scott Walker, agreeing to pay overtime and rescinding a $4-per-hour raise after the federal government ordered back pay for unpaid overtime.
Members of the Dignitary Protection Unit will now be paid time-and-a-half for working any hours beyond 40 per week, said Peg Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, which oversees the State Patrol.
The security team includes a captain (currently vacant), a lieutenant and eight sergeants, but starting Sept. 20 it will be reduced to one lieutenant and four sergeants, Schmitt said.
Other members of the State Patrol will fill in to provide security when needed, she added.
The moves are related to a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Labor that will require back pay for eight current members and one former member of the team for overtime dating back to May 19, 2013, Schmitt said.
She specifically cited “the financial impact it will have on the Division of State Patrol,” but said the state doesn’t yet have an estimate of the cost of the back pay.
She also wouldn’t disclose how the reduction in the number of security personnel would affect how the governor, his family and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch are protected on a round-the-clock basis.
The U.S. Labor Department decision was not available Tuesday, according to an agency spokesman.
“The only thing that I can confirm is that the U.S. Department of Labor has an open investigation,” spokesman Scott Allen said. “We can’t discuss any details until we have completed the investigation. At this time there is no final determination.”
Schmitt said the department was informed of the decision verbally on Aug. 24.
The cost of the security team has come under increased scrutiny as Walker has mounted a 2016 presidential campaign and increased his out-of-state travel.
In 2014, the cost of Walker’s security team approached $2.4 million, or three times what it was in the last year of predecessor Gov. Jim Doyle’s term when there were only four permanent members. In Walker’s first year as governor, when he and his family faced death threats during the Act 10 protests, the total cost was $1.6 million as the team increased to 10 members. The cost reached $2 million in 2012 and $2.2 million in 2013.
State law allows DOT to “assign state traffic officers to safeguard state officers or other persons.”
Schmitt said last year that the expansion in 2011 allowed the team to protect the governor, the first lady, their children and the lieutenant governor. Schmitt didn’t specify Tuesday whether the reduction from 10 members to five will mean any change in which officials receive protection.
The current hourly pay rates for the security team range from $32.15 to $34.36, plus what Schmitt described as a “discretionary $4-per-hour add-on allowed under the State Compensation Plan.”
That pay raise was instituted earlier this year, but starting next week the amount will be cut from the pay of the security team, she said.
Walker’s campaign has said it will reimburse the state for the security team’s travel costs but not for salaries and benefits because the state would pay those costs regardless of whether Walker was traveling or not.
Democratic lawmakers introduced a proposal last week to require state officials running for national office to report out-of-state travel expenses to the Government Accountability Board and reimburse the state for any taxpayer costs related to political trips.
“It makes one wonder whether or not the Governor needed that many officers providing security for him all these years and if not how much of the millions in taxpayers’ money has been wasted on additional security that the Governor didn’t need,” Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said in a statement. “The lavish spending on a security detail that was more than double that of previous governors and which it appears the Governor admits is no longer needed raises questions about the Governor’s priorities at a time when needed highway projects are being delayed, our public schools have seen deep cuts to the point they are having trouble hiring teachers and our universities have seen cuts of over a half billion dollars.”
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the governor’s office doesn’t comment on security issues.
She noted that Walker received the same 24-hour protection as Doyle.