PEOPLE-Local 645

  • Quality of Life Alliance

The County Budget And Its Big Black Hole

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on November 11, 2009

From Milwaukee County First:

As most of you are probably aware, the Milwaukee County Board went through the amendments in a marathon 17 hour session yesterday.  As is my wont, I took the day off yesterday so that I could attend the hearing.

For a complete results of the votes, I would refer you to either this pdf issued by the County Board or the report from today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (yes, that is a picture of me in the paper).

The Board has been taking proactive steps to keep the County Executive’s office from continue overreaching its authority, such as they did with the Office of Sustainability and the Economic Development Director.  The concern is that the Board might be also overreaching its authority.  I would hope that they find a way to balance and compliment  each other instead of the extremely divisive and antagonistic behaviors we have seen over the past eight years.

The restoration of the Farm and Fish Hatchery was key, as was the innovative idea of transferring authority of it to the Parks Department, which will actually make it better for all involved.  This program is just too vital, especially in these difficult economic times, to let expire for simple political purposes.  Besides, as was pointed out during the discussion, it is actually cost neutral to the County as that the Hunger Task Force has agreed to assume the costs of the operation.

On at least two separate occasions, Supervisor Paul Cesarz voted in a way that would have actually raised the tax levy.  One item was on the amendment that deleted language that would contract a planning expert to do long term planning for County Trunk Highways, and instead called for using in-house experts.

The other item was to the recommendation to do an audit of the privatized food service at the  Behavioral Health Division (mental health complex).  The reason for this audit was due to complaints that the food quality and quantity had dropped severely, to the point of being nearly inedible.

Supervisor Cesarz voted against both of these issues.  I would have thought of all the supervisors, Cesarz would have been the one most likely to want to make sure that the tax payer’s money is being used to the most effective manner.

Much to the joy of  the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and all lovers of the parks and the lakefront, the proposal to put parking meters up along the lakefront was roundly defeated.  The clincher to its defeat was the fact that implementation of said plan was to raise $450,000, although it was pointed out that there was no explanation on how Walker’s staff came up with that number.  In exchange, UWM informed the Board that it would cancel its lease for parking with the County, resulting in a loss of $94,000.  UWM also would end its contract for U-Pass, the bus shuttle service, which is worth $2.3 million dollars.

It was not responsible budget planning to have included this scheme in the first place, and it is to the benefit of all that it was so roundly defeated.

This brings us to the big black hole that is found in both the Executive’s proposed budget and the Board’s amended version.

In Walker’s proposed budget, he is counting on some 16% pay cuts from union workers, as well as laying at least 200 workers.  The Board’s amended version is less drastic, but still requires a considerable pay cut and the lay off of a couple dozen workers.

The expectation of concessions by the unions is completely understandable, and to be expected, especially when one looks at what has happened in other bodies of government such as the City of Milwaukee, Dane County and the State of Wisconsin and their respective unions.

However, terms of the contract between the unions and the County, as well as state and federal labor laws intervene with their plans.  The County and AFSCME had reached a Tentative Agreement based on good faith bargaining.  Through a series of poor choices, this Agreement was put on hold, and eventually denied by the Board as a whole.

The actions and statements made by Executive Walker, the County Board, and Supervisor Johnny Thomas basically constitute bad faith bargaining and prohibited practices, as defined by the contract and the law.

It is my understanding that AFSCME has already filed lawsuits against the Board and Supervisor Thomas, and other suits are being contemplated at this time.

It also, ironically puts the County in a bargaining disadvantage. Supervisor John Weishan, who sits on the Personnel Committee, pointed out that Walker’s own labor negotiating team admitted that Walker’s proposal has a zero chance of winning in arbitration.  That means that as long as AFSCME did not propose anything unreasonable, the odds of the union winning an arbitration was all but guaranteed.  To make things even more likely to fall in the union’s favor was the fact that most of  all the other local governments had successfully reached negotiations with their unions offering modest raises, along with other concessions from the unions.  Milwaukee County did the same thing with the nurses union, eroding the County’s position even further.

It is expected that due to this artificial budget and its faulty suppositions, that there would be anywhere from a $15 million to a $32 million deficit on January 1, 2010.  It is further expected that Executive Walker will use this contrived deficit as a reason to call a fiscal emergency and lay off workers.

Supervisor De Bruin had some numbers figured out by Walker’s staff, and found that the expected savings from each lay off for an entire year would be about $40,000.   She added that to make the savings required by Walker’s budget, 800 workers would need to be laid off at the beginning of the year.  If this was delayed to midyear, the number would be 1,600 workers laid off.

During the budget process, almost every department head had informed the Finance and Audit Committee that they would not be able to function at required levels if they were to sustain more cuts to their staff.  This would endanger the County of having to experience more take overs by the State, as they did at the beginning of this year with the Economic Support Program.  This would also likely result in a higher amount of money coming out of the tax levy, as it did with Economic Support.

In summary, through the illegal actions of Scott Walker and the Board, Milwaukee County has been put into an even more precarious financial position.  It faces having to make unpopular tax hikes or losing more control of its programs through take overs by the State.

Privatization of many of these services is also  a viable solution, due to state and federal laws requiring that some of the services be done by public sector workers to ensure accountability.

The Board and the Executive need to work together with the unions to work out some sort of agreement that would preserve the County’s financial sustainability without jeopardizing services.

Perhaps something like a collateral agreement that would create a retirement window, with the stipulation by the unions that would cap any back drop payments to minimize damages to the budget, such as we had witnessed in 2004.  However, this would be a controversial approach to the problem, and might not resolve the issues.

The only viable solution that I can see is that the state legislature and Governor Doyle finally recognize Milwaukee County’s peril, and honor the voter’s wishes to allow us to help ourselves by allowing the one percent sales tax and to do so immediately.

You can help convey this message by signing our petition and by calling your state legislature and Governor Doyle’s off ice and call on them to act immediately, before it is too late.  Here is a list of the phone numbers for the state representatives and Governor Doyle:

Rep. Pedro Colón: (608) 267-7669

Rep. David Cullen: (608) 267-9836 or (888) 534-0013*

Rep. Jason Fields (608) 266-3756 or (888) 534-0011*

Rep. Tamara Grigsby: (608) 266-0645 or (888) 534-0018*

Rep. Mark Gundrum: (608) 267-5158 or (888) 534-0084*

Rep. Mark Honadel: (608) 266-0610 or (888) 534-0021*

Rep. Fred Kessler: (608) 266-5813 or (888) 534-0012*

Rep. Peggy Krusick: (608) 266-1733

Rep. Jim Ott: (608) 266-0486 or (888) 534-0023*

Rep. Jon Richards : (608) 266-0650 or (888) 534-0019*

Rep. Sandy Pasch:  (608) 266-7671 or (888) 534-0022*

Rep. Tony Staskunas:  (608) 266-0620 or (888) 534-0015*

Rep. Jeff Stone: (608) 266-8590 or (888) 534-0082

Rep. Barbara Toles:  (608) 266-5580

Rep. Leah Vukmir:  (608) 266-9180

Rep. Annette Polly Williams: (608) 266-0960

Rep. Leon Young: (608) 266-3786 or (888) 534-0016*

Rep. Josh Zepnick:  (608) 266-1707

Governor Jim Doyle: (414) 227-4344

 

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