Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wigging The Dog

I was afraid something like this would happen.

When James Wigderson started writing for the McIver Institute, I was a little shocked and more than a little dismayed. For a long time, James was a prolific writer whose points, even when I disagreed, were at least well-written, honest and supported with facts. When he started writing for McIver, I was concerned that this would change. Unfortunately, I was proven correct.

The McIver Institute, for those who aren't familiar, is a low grade right wing front group. Sort of like the third string team for a Junior Varsity squad. You can't expect a lot of honesty from them, and they don't disappoint in that sense.

It appears that James has fallen into that morass.

In his post, a somewhat predictable essay repeating the same tired and inaccurate talking points used to regularly trash unions.

First, Wigderson does accurately report that the County budgeted concession that had not been negotiated into their budget. What he fails to mention is that is against state and federal labor laws to negotiate contracts via the budget. He also fails to mention that the unions and the County did have a Tentative Contract that would have saved Milwaukee County millions of dollars in higher health care contributions from the workers as well as two years of pay freezes.

Unfortunately for the workers and the tax payers, Scott Walker was able to spook enough supervisors that the contract was rejected. Now, besides losing those unsaved millions of dollars, the County is sinking deeper into the fiscal abyss Walker has led us to.

Wigderson then lists what he thinks are the concessions demanded (not asked for or put up for negotiation) by Walker:
For 2010, the county budgeted wage and benefit concessions across the board, including union employees. The county budget calls for a wage freeze, no step increases, $30 per month health care premium increase, and a change in the pension multiplier to 1.6%. In his budget address, County Executive Scott Walker said 48% of the county budget goes to fund wages and benefits for county employees. The concessions are necessary to fill a $10 million budget gap.
The truth is much more severe and a matter of public record. If Wigderson wanted to be honest, he could have gotten the information. Can you imagine being asked to pay a percentage of something you have no control over? There is no way of telling if Walker would then try to switch plans to one of his campaign donors who could raise their rates by double digit percentages. Agreeing to that would be highly irresponsible.

Wigderson further thinks that the furlough extension were a wise idea and that the the privatization was forward looking.

What an odd thing to say for someone who is supposed to be watching out for the tax payers and supportive of wise spending.

The mental health complex is already on pace to break all previous records for overtime due to being chronically understaffed, which is only exasperated by the furlough days. Things are so bad that the County has tentatively reached a collateral agreement with the nurses to forgive them their furlough days (and that is on top of the raises that Walker gave them).

I have also learned just today that at the House of Correction, they've already had at least one shift where there were more officers working for overtime pay than there were officers working their normal hours. This was due to the furlough days.

The privatization of the security at the mental health complex, to which Wigderson alludes, is actually costing tax payers more money than if it had been kept in the public sector. The same complaint has been made by County Supervisors regarding the food service at BHD. On top of all that, the whole Wackenhut deal sounds like it isn't much of a deal at all. (Perhaps someone with more time than I could do some checking to see if executives from Wackenhut had donated money to Walker's campaign. After all, that does appear to be a strong possibility, given Walker's track record.)

If Wigderson and Team McIver were really interested in lowering taxes, they would be advocating for real reform to the health care system, seeing how it's health care costs that are the biggest chunk of a public employee's benefits.

Another point that Wigderson fails to note is that besides the concessions, Walker also wanted to cut a few hundred jobs. There is no union that I am aware of that would willingly agree to large concessions and job cuts.

Interestingly, if Walker had shown real leadership, he would have done the same as many other civic and county leaders and actually sat down and negotiated for the concessions he wanted. Instead, Walker gives us grandstanding and bellicose sound bites which only belie the fact that he has nothing to offer.

Furthermore, if Walker failed at getting the concessions he wanted, he could have greatly minimized the damage to the county and to his political aspirations by declaring his self-created fiscal emergency on January 1, 2010 and laid off 300 workers, which would have achieved the same results.

Due to his failure to act in a timely fashion, he now has to demand excessive furlough days and lay off almost twice as many workers, which will severely jack up overtime costs and diminish services to the point where he will no longer be able to hide it from the media. His bluster of being tough on the unions will quickly fade when people find out he is much tougher on the tax payers. Walker's purposeful delay of addressing the issue shows a few things:
  • He clearly doesn't know what he is doing
  • The lay offs/furloughs are merely Walker playing political games with peoples lives, like he has done before
  • He realizes that if he keeps cutting workers, services will get cut so deeply they will start having an immediate and strong negative impact on his political dreams.
And while it is indeed sad that many workers will needlessly lose their jobs (and likely their homes), it is even sadder that all of the tax payers and the people who rely on the services provided by Milwaukee County are going to suffer, through no fault of their own, but due to Walker's lack of foresight and leadership and political avarice.

In summary, James Wigderson was half-correct: There is a severe lack of leadership in Milwaukee County. Where he went wrong was blaming it on the unions for doing what they are supposed to do, and not placing the blame where it belongs - firmly and squarely on Scott Walker's shoulders.


  1. I was a little surprised too, but for opposite reasons. I like Wiggy's writings, but I always felt that he didn't delve into the issues enough. In other words, the issues he wrote about were timely and relevant, but not analytical.

    I think the institute is bringing the best out of Wiggy. Capper, don't hate him because he's right.

  2. Oh, I don't hate James. I've met him and his likable enough.

    But your wrong about him being right, or maybe you missed that little fact that I support my conclusions with facts.