Walker’s Manufactured Budget Woes

In Issues and Debate on March 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Just days ago, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed SS AB/SB 11; the so-called ‘budget repair bill’ as prescribed by the Governor himself. As many already know, the bill was stripped of certain budgetary language as to contain no ‘fiscal impact’ and thus be passed by the Wisconsin State Senate without the 14 Democratic Senators present for a quorum and and a vote. While the question as to the legality of this action remains open, the truth is that the bill contains measures that will indeed have a ‘fiscal impact’ regardless of how you slice it. The bill not only curtails collective bargaining rights for teachers, but also establishes limits on collective bargaining rights for day-care providers and employees of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority. The bill also eliminates two non-voting director positions on the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinic Board that are required to be members of the ‘collective bargaining’ units of said employeess. Further reading of the law brings a repeal of collective bargaining rights for home-care providers and an addition of administrators to the Wisconsin Department of Administration. These additions come while other positions shift from ‘classified’ (civil-service) to ‘un-classified’ (professional) status. This makes hiring easier as civil service requirements need not be applied, but the addition of administration positions will undoubtedly have a ‘fiscal impact’ just as repealing of collective bargaining rights will. An increasingly contradictory part of this bill is continued discovery of administrative salaries and fringe benefits. While increasing administrative positions, Gov. Walker is opening the door for greater patronage and bureaucratic control. He’s giving middle management the store while stripping  public employees of the scraps they already receive when compared to the salaries of administrators who many a Republican and Democrat alike accuse of being the true source of government waste, ie. the bloated bureaucracy.

Furthering his views concerning unions and privatization, SS SB/AB 11 also contains provisions for selling public property, in particular that property used for the purposes of powering the state’s grid and as well as heating and cooling of homes. Though the bill doesn’t specify dollar amounts for such property, its stipulations will indeed have a fiscal impact on the state budget while padding the pockets of private utility interests such as those of the now infamous, and parodied, Koch brothers. Walker does indeed take care of his own, but his own don’t resemble anyone representing middle America.

With respect to Gov. Walker’s proverbial movement of pawns with respect to Wisconsin State Employees, new information has surfaced in recent weeks showing that Walker has done this before. In his years as a Milwaukee County Executive in the early 2000’s, Walker repeatedly stated the need for austerity measures to shore up the county budget. These claims were not only opposed by the County Board, but also by budgetaryt experts within the county itself. Walker repeatedly over-stated county revenues by millions and when those revenues failed to materialize, he instituted his own ‘austerity’ measures to save the county from fiscal damage. The truth is Walker continually proposed budgets with revenue estimates that were off the charts while debating the county board, agency heads, and at one time Governor Tom Doyle.

Perhaps the most interesting tactic Walker used to bring the Milwaukee County Budget inline was to allow property taxes paid by average homeowners to increase by 20% while looking the other way as businesses snubbed tax-assessors and/or filed for tax-exempt status with little to no oversight. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, a re-assessment of these properties would save the average homeowner in Milwaukee an estimated $800 per year. Not surpisongly, many of these homeowners are also union members who now find themselves in Walker’s budgetary cross-hairs once again.

While property tax tricks maybe the most intersting of Walker’s tactics, the most humorous event in his time as a Milwaukee County Executive involves the lay-off of unionized county security officers and the eventual re-hire of those same workers as Walker’s action were seemingly shot down in court. When Walker laid-off 26 security guards in 2010 against County Board wishes, the union representing the guards sued. As an arbitrator granted the guards the right to their jobs back, Walker and the County Board had already hired an outside security firm to replace the guards at a cost of 1.1 million per year. As we stand now, Milwaukee County how has two sets of security guards, because Walker failed to listen to the County Board, failed to understand contract law, and continued to attack unions from the county level to the state level within a year.

Soon SS SB/AB 11 will be challenged in court against the claim that it has no fiscal impact and thus requires a no quorum to proceed, as all budgetary measures require in Madison. A recall is underway for 8 Republican Senators and 5 Democratic Senators with the 2012 election cycle looming. Such measures are popping up in many states as public employee unions find themselves pitted against Republican legislatures and governors alike. The next 18 months will be quite the roller-coaster ride not only for Wisconsin, but for the nation as a whole.


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