Sunday, October 21, 2012

Liar, Liar - The Milwaukee County Edition

James Wigderson wrote an article for the MacIver Institute which addresses how Act 10 affects Milwaukee County. In said article, he quotes Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and cites a study by the Public Policy Forum.

Those two sentences should be sufficient to let the gentle reader know what angle the article took and how much credibility it has.

MacIver Institute, which is anything but a news service, is the subject of a complaint filed with the IRS for violating their tax exempt status by flagrantly advocating for politicians and/or policies, such as Scott Walker and Act 10:
In March, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) announced that it had filed a complaint with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service against the MacIver Institute, the Heartland Institute and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), another group that has received funding from the Koch brothers and the Bradley Foundation. In its complaint, WDC accuses AFP and MacIver of violating their 501(c)(3) status by creating their "It's Working Wisconsin" project, which spent $1.2 million on advertising alone, urging people not to sign the recall petitions. In addition, WDC accused these groups of holding public meetings and other activities to try to influence the outcome of the recalls. WDC also alleged that the Chicago-based Heartland Institute's planned "Operation Angry Badger"—a public relations effort to support Walker in the recall—would violate the group's tax-exempt status.
Public Policy Forum (PPF) is much like MacIver, but much more subtle and slicker about it. They receive much of their funding from the Greater Milwaukee Committee, of which Abele is a member, and Argosy, Abele's personal philanthropy agency. Their general modus operandi is to take funding from one of these groups to find the answer to a very slanted question. In this case, it could be a question of "How does Act 10 benefit Milwaukee County?" instead of "How does Act 10 affect Milwaukee County?"

Unlike MacIver, PPF usually does support their position with numbers and facts, skewed as they might be.

This information does not bode well for any confidence in the article itself, does it? And the reader would be correct.

The article starts out with the claim that Act 10 has been beneficial for Milwaukee County, per the PPF report. Then comes this blurb:
In an interview, Abele agreed with the report. "Absolutely Act 10 gives more flexibility."

Abele said the best defense of Act 10 is the effect it has. "Your taxes didn't go up and your services didn't get cut. That is the best refutation to anything the unions would say."
Well, it would be a good refutation...if it were true.

Sadly, Brandon Johnson and the four other people that died at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex were not available for comment on whether they felt there was a cut in services.

The fact is when you cut employees, such as Abele has done and is proposing to do more of, there is a corresponding loss of services. We have seen this year after year under Walker and the same rules apply for Abele.

Then they try to get into specifics of how well Act 10 supposedly worked:
As a result of health care savings, the PPF report says, "Employee/retiree health care savings bridge about 37% of the $28.5 million budget gap in the 2013 recommended budget, and bridged nearly 40% of the projected $55 million budget gap in 2012."

The health care savings, combined with pension savings and savings from cuts elsewhere in the budget, is allowing Abele to propose a budget that has no furloughs or layoffs. Instead, the budget actually proposes $3.2 million in wage increases (including step increases).

The PPF report also says employees could save in their pension contributions, "In addition, the budget proposes a reduced pension contribution (from 4.7% of salary to 3.2%) for about 1,500 non-public safety employees who are not eligible for the pension backdrop, producing an estimated $750 savings for the average eligible employee."
In reality, this in violation of equal protection given to us in the constitution and one of the main reasons Act 10 was found unconstitutional and struck down. But even before Act 10 was struck down, it was proving to be expensive for Milwaukee County, due to their losing lawsuit after lawsuit on the changes Abele has already tried to implement:
Another issue of concern which leaps out is Abele again trying to put limitations on the back drop benefit enacted during the Tom Ament administration more than ten years ago. While his motive for doing so is commendable, the reality makes it less so. Over the past decade, the county has literally spent tens of millions of dollars in fighting the lavish pension benefits that Ament had bestowed on the workers. Each time, the unions have filed complaints, grievances and lawsuits regarding these moves and each time the unions have prevailed. The county has recently chosen to appeal the most recent of these rulings despite being advised by their lawyers that they will lose again, adding to the amount of money being squandered.

One courthouse insider said that the Abele administration is taking a page from Walker’s playbook, in the sense that they are hoping to get these cases to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where such matters are decided on the ideology of the conservative majority rather than on the law. The odd thing about this is that the cases will probably end up going to federal court where the original rulings will be restored. Perhaps Abele is counting on the unions going bankrupt before them.
Perhaps the most blatant piece of propaganda and outright lying comes in the next paragraph:
The health care savings, combined with pension savings and savings from cuts elsewhere in the budget, is allowing Abele to propose a budget that has no furloughs or layoffs. Instead, the budget actually proposes $3.2 million in wage increases (including step increases).
Abele's proposal calls for about 250 people to be laid off, or about 5% of the workforce. Even worse, at the top of Wigderson's post, he cites the PPF study with these words:
The PPF report said, "A multi-year effort to better manage employee and retiree health care costs - aided recently by the flexibility granted under Wisconsin Act 10 and difficult decisions to reduce the workforce - continues to produce savings that are countering the impacts of reduced state funding and other structural challenges."
In other words, Wigderson and Abele are contradicting themselves practically in the same breath.

It's even more farcical when one considers the boast about there being no furloughs. That's simply because Abele had to pay out over four million dollars for Walker's illegal furloughs and still owes workers over a million dollars more. It's very much like when Walker tried to take credit for lifting the caps off of Family Care when the reality is he was ordered to by the federal government.

The article then mentions Abele's proposal for a crony-award system, to which county supervisors are unreceptive. The article insinuates that this is because they are ineligible for these payouts. The truth is because this too is unethical and illegal, even per county ordinances that Abele himself enacted:
One of the issues of greatest concern is Abele’s plan on initiating a “merit system,” in which he will supposedly reward employees that “go that extra mile.” All of the officials, elected or appointed, and employees in general that MCF had spoken to in the past week have laughed in derision when this subject was brought up to them. No one expects that the half a million dollars will make it far past the executive’s suite or his cabinet. This move is commonly seen as being a legalized form of political patronage and cronyism.

Not only does Abele’s “merit system” have the smack of being cronyism, but it is also illegal. It violates a number of county ordinances, from the civil service codes to aspects of the labor contract which Abele had just signed into law. It also flies in the face of Milwaukee County’s Code of Ethics, which explicitly forbids any county official or employee from giving or receiving anything of worth.

What makes this especially egregious is that the fact that Abele tried to start a cynical campaign to have this law struck down, using the untimely and tragic death of Sheriff Deputy Sergio Aleman, whose widow is also a county employee as an excuse. Abele’s office was telling people that they would be in violation of the ethics code if they contributed to Deputy Aleman’s memorial fund unless the law was tweaked to allow this sort of thing.
The one thing that was not even broached by this article is the other effect that Act 10 has had on Milwaukee County, as well as all of Wisconsin - the loss of jobs in both the private and public sectors.

As Abele, like Walker, exercises measures of austerity and mislabels it as responsible government, this has only served to remove money from circulation, thereby stagnating and depressing our local economy. And without the demand that comes with the removal of money from circulation, business have slowed down, if not closed completely, laying off more people and continuing the downward cycle.

Things have gotten so bad so fast that neither Walker nor Abele even mention creating jobs anymore, hoping people will forget their false promises.

This is not surprising. For people like Walker and Abele, serving the common good has never been a consideration, much less a priority. Their only concern is to take away from the public and give it to their wealthy friends and benefactors. That's what plutocrats and oligarchs do.


  1. In state offices, there are no longer incentives for good employees to stay. They go to the private sector or out of state; the positions often stay empty for quite a while; sometimes workers with the required skills can't be recruited. Who wants to be subjected to violations of their contract, public ridicule and political games? So much of the brain trust has now left public employ and the performance of our public services take the hit.

  2. Unfortunately, there was no one running against Abele at the last election. He was unopposed.