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Views From Scott Walker’s Handbasket

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on February 8, 2010

Over the past eight years, we have seen Scott Walker attempt to system-atically destroy Milwaukee County.

He has continuously denied his responsibility towards the parks, cutting funding every year, until we have over $200 million in deferred maintenance and repairs.

Likewise, he has continuously cut routes and raised fares for the transit system, to the point that it is now 80% of what it was when he took over and on the verge of collapse.

He has kept cutting mental health services to the point where there is insufficient beds at the mental health complex and people in the community who have mental health concerns are literally being put in harm’s way. He only started to change this patter after a series of condemning articles ran in the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal.

He ran the House of Corrections into the ground to such a point that it received poor grades in a federal report. Instead of fixing the problems, Walker abdicated his responsibilities and dumped the whole thing off on the Sheriff’s Office.

Walker’s pattern of failure has been repeated year after year and in department after department.

This pattern of failure only worsens in the years that he is running for re-election or when he is trying another one of his attempts to be governor.

This year is already shaping up to be Walker’s worst year ever, and it is something that he has been setting himself, and the citizens of Milwaukee, up for for over a year and a half.

The contracts for most, if not all, of the unions expired December 31, 2008. In the fall of 2008, the unions came to the negotiating table, as was agreed upon and a long standing practice. However, the County was not ready to contend with them. Having dealt with similar behaviors from Walker and his staff in 2006, when Walker had his first failed attempt to be governor, the unions were prepared for this and started looking at going to arbitration right away.

After a lot of false starts and obstructive behaviors by Walker and his administration, the unions and the County Board’s Personnel Committee were finally able to come to terms and forged a proposal both sides could live with. The proposal called for no pay raises for two years and an increase in health insurance costs to be paid by the employees. In exchange, the unions would get a no lay off clause. This proposal was very similar to the one that AFSCME had just signed with the City of Milwaukee and many other municipalities around the area.

The Tentative Agreement was ratified by the unions in rather overwhelming numbers and it easily passed through both the Personnel Committee and the Finance and Audit Committee.

Unfortunately, by the time that the Board as a whole was to vote on it, Walker had presented his proposed 2010 budget which had a $32 million deficit built into it, which is a violation of state and federal laws. Instead of doing the right thing and sending Walker’s illegal budget back to him, they took it and tried to craft something out of it. They failed to completely overcome Walker’s gaping deficit. The concerns of trying to overcome this illegal budget led them down the path of rejecting the Tentative Agreement and doing their own illegal budget as well as bad faith bargaining. (In last week’s 4th Street Forum, Supervisor Jursik admitted that they passed a deficit budget, which is, as I already mentioned, illegal.)

If the Board had agreed to the contract, they would have had saved over $3 million in salary costs and several more millions in savings on health care costs. If they had passed this at the beginning of 2009, there would have been a surplus of several million dollars last year and no deficit in the budget this year. But that is all woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Due to all of this bungling, Milwaukee County started the year with a $20 million deficit and no way to plug the hole except to hope that the unions forget all of the bad faith bargaining and everything they stand for and agree to massive concessions in pay and higher costs and to lay offs.

I doubt very much this will happen for a number of reasons. The first one is that it would be very difficult for the unions to get its membership to agree to all of these concessions and get nothing in return.

Secondly, Walker is already grandstanding, trying to obfuscate the reality that his budget is illegal and irreparable. (The problem Walker has with trying to blame AFSCME for his budget problems falls flat when one realizes that AFSCME isn’t asking for anything more than he already agreed to give to other unions.)

Thirdly, even if the unions would agree to all of the demanded concessions at this very moment in time, about 350 workers would still have to be laid off. By the time that any such vote could be coordinated, voted on, ratified, and approved by the County Board and then Walker, the number will probably over 400 workers gone.

And if the unions take it to arbitration and wins (which everyone from Supervisors to the negotiator believe would happen), that only means more workers will be laid off.

And therein lies the problem.

He cannot cut that many workers without seriously affecting services and without exasperating the budget problem.

If he cuts out all the parks workers, he still wouldn’t save enough money. And he would lose out on all of the expected income from the parks including golf fees, rental fees, etc.

If he cuts into transit, that will implode the economy and greatly increase the number of people applying for income maintenance aid.

Some insiders have told me that Walker might be targeting social services. But to reach that number of workers, he would have to lay off all of the target case management workers, all of the community support workers and all of Disability Services. And this would still not get him nearly the numbers he would need. It would also greatly affect the income the County receives for providing these services and would effectively destroy Family Care, something which he has been touting for years.

Even if Walker would try to do across the board cuts, programs are going to be put in serious binds and money will be lost.

And people, not just the workers, but the entire community will be greatly and negatively impacted by the cuts Walker has to now make. And even then, there is no guarantee that it will be enough to balance his budget and to fill the hole he created.

The cuts will have to be so severe that upstate news media will notice. And even if they didn’t, you know that Mark Neumann and Tom Barrett will be sure to bring it to everyone’s attention.

The only thing that surprises me is that Walker never thought far enough ahead to realize that as he was taking Milwaukee County to Hell in a handbasket, he was going along with the rest of us.


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