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Looking Into The Crystal Ball

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on October 14, 2009

First, some quick background:

County Executive Scott Walker, in his perpetual campaign to be the next governor, has made his budget proposal into a political statement. His single campaign platform of no tax increases (except for the ones that he accepts from the County Board every year) is evident throughout the budget. So is his shameless political pandering to his base and to his campaign contributors, like the land developers.

Walker has some grandiose and highly irresponsible plans in his budget, including things like a giant water park in the suburbs, while shutting down the public pools and community centers.
Besides cutting these valuable commodities and slashing transit services and diminishing the overall quality of the parks even further, Walker plans on paying for his extravagances on the backs of the workers and the poor.

Unfortunately for Walker, there is a little thing called the law that prevents him from arbitrarily dictating contract negotiations through the budget process or through the public. AFSCME has already filed lawsuits against Walker and some of the Board Supervisors for their bad faith bargaining, which will end up only costing the tax payers even more.

Trying to head off Walker’s disastrous plan, the union and the county labor negotiators did a lot of eleventh hour bargaining to come up with a tentative agreement, which was quickly ratified by the unions and approved by both the Finance and Audit Committee and the Personnel Committee, even as a Walker veto was looming.

Unfortunately, not everyone on the County Board had the fortitude to stand up for their constituents, and the contract was tabled.

This brings up to today:

Later today, the County Board will have a special meeting as a whole. One of the subject to be discussed and voted on is the tentative agreement which they had tabled. I am predicting that they will vote the agreement down. The reason is another resolution that they will discuss and vote on, which is whether to furlough county workers, with an ever growing number of exclusions, for four days in November and December.

Seeing how the furlough passed the Finance and Audit Committee in a 7-0 vote, I do not see how this will not pass. Walker is practically drooling on himself to sign that into law the minute it hits his desk, although I would not be at all surprised to see him turn this into a photo op either.

By shooting down the contract, the Board will be painting themselves into a corner. The unions will immediately call for arbitration. Then, if they are smart, the unions will offer a proposal with a small raise, say 1.5%, retroactive back to the beginning of 2009. Walker, on the other hand, has painted himself into a corner as well, and cannot afford to back down and make a reasonable offer. The arbitrator will then rule for the union’s proposal. It won’t save any jobs, but at least those of us that will be victimized by Walker’s political aspirations will get a small severance check from the back pay due to them.

This then will force the Walker and the Board to come up with the savings somewhere else. Walker has already broadcasted that he would lay off another 300+ workers on top of the 400 he wants to lay off in his budget proposal, mostly through privatization, even though that ends up costing more. If these cuts are done across the board, that would put massive cuts into vital and mandated services, opening the door for more state takeovers, such as they are currently doing with the economic support programs. If the cuts come more targeted to avoid vital services, that means that things like the parks or transit could be forever lost.

Another aspect of this is that it will cause a second exodus of county workers as they rush to retire before all the layoffs and furloughs can have any impact on their pensions. This will put further strain on budgets, as that given his past practice from 2004, it is clear that Walker doesn’t like to think that far ahead, and won’t have planned on this.

One of the other choices would involve cutting funding to long-time amenities like the zoo, the public museum and the such. I cannot imagine that this would be popular with area families.

Another choice would be to slash non-mandated services like transit and the parks.

None of these options would be good for the quality of life of Milwaukee County citizens or its visitors, and all of them would have various negative impacts on the economic health of the county and the region.

The only realistic way that these disasters would be avoided is if the state legislature and Governor Doyle take quick action to pass the sales tax bills for both transit and for the parks. But they don’t seem to be too worried about Milwaukee at this time.

Odds are that the Board will be forced to go with a compromise solution in which they sacrifice a few hundred workers jobs , and privatize things like housekeeping, security and the such. However, I don’t think they will privatize the Targeted Case Management and Community Support Programs as that has been shown to be less than cost effective.

I also do not see Walker getting his giant water park in the burbs, but that the County Board will go with the idea of fixing up the two indoor pools and keeping them all open, allowing more people the chance to take advantage of them.

I also don’t think that Walker will get his economic development office. To be clearer, I think he will get something, but just not in the form he wants it to be, since that would be a clear recipe for further disaster. However, the need for someone effective, as opposed to one of his former campaign managers, is clearly necessary, since the County has experienced yearly short falls due to lack of land development and other revenue due to the failing business climate in Milwaukee County.

Given the fact that the rest of the state is still suffering the effects of Walker’s type of economic policy, I can not imagine how Walker thinks people upstate would be keen on the idea of someone cutting the services they rely on, or someone unable to effectively do his job as county executive. But that is his problem, not mine.

Furthermore, knowing darn well that they are the ones that are going to be left holding the bag, I don’t understand why the County Board is allowing themselves to be so easily duped and manipulated. It’s as if they have as a hard time learning from the past as Walker does.


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