Thursday, April 24, 2014

Chris Able: The Pro-Poverty Plutocrat

Here we go again.

Chris Abele, the Mitt Romney of Milwaukee County, has opposed a living wage ordinance since Supervisor David Bowen first announced his plan to introduce the resolution on Labor Day of last year.  Abele was so opposed to it that he went to the Teapublicans in the state legislature and nearly had all living wage laws in the entire state nullified.

Fortunately, despite Abele's best efforts, the living wage ordinance passed, his veto was overridden and the law will go into effect at the end of May.

But Abele is still bound and determined to keep people in poverty.

The latest chapter in Abele's war against the poor starts with a battle over the housekeeping contract for Milwaukee County.  Abele is trying to get the contract with his chosen vendor, CleanPower, rammed through before the living wage law goes into effect.*

To do so, he is sending out his minions, like his personally-owned county supervisor, Deanna Alexander, and with the help of right wing propagandists like Wisconsin Reporter, to raise the false concern that postponing the contract will cost taxpayers more than $2 million over the next two years.

There's more than a few problems with this presumption.

First and foremost is the presumption that it will have to cost taxpayers a dime.  If Abele and his band of cronies had any negotiating skills, they could have the vendor eat the costs.  They can afford to lose a half million or even a million dollars of pure profit more than the workers could afford to be kept at sub-poverty pay levels.

Secondly, what Abele and company doesn't want you to think about is what it would cost not giving these workers a living wage.  If these workers are kept at the sub-poverty pay levels, taxpayers would be paying for their income subsidies, such as BadgerCare, food stamps and energy assistance.  It also doesn't consider the other costs that stem from keeping people in poverty, such as the money needed to deal with foreclosed homes, homelessness and so on.

Thirdly, Abele doesn't want people to realize that this would also help stimulate the economy.  Paying someone $11.33 an hour is not going to make them filthy rich.  These workers are going to be spending the extra income on food, rent, mortgages, taxes and all sorts of things that will help keep the economy going.

Perhaps Abele realized that this argument wasn't working after all and tried to up the ante by complaining that the living wage law would require the county to hire three people to enforce the law.

Abele claims that he needs the extra staff to investigate employee complaints, do audits and answer open records requests.  I'm not exactly sure why the extra staff would be needed since these are services that should already being done.  Unless he his implying that the companies he is contracting with are that disreputable.

The cost of these three extra people, if they are really needed, would be $200,000, per his propagandists.

His concern over that price is laughable.

The county budget is $1.3 billion.  In a budget that big, $200,000 isn't even a blip on the radar.

Abele is paying more than that to just two of his top aides, Chief of Staff Amber Moreen and Director of Administration Don Tyler.

Abele's 2014 proposed budget was off by $3.5 million, but he wasn't concerned about that.

Abele's deferred maintenance caused a fire in the courthouse that is going to cost more than $17 million, of which at least $2 million will be coming directly from taxpayers.  He has yet to apologize for this.

The supposed price for these three workers is half of what Abele wanted to spend on a private security force, because he was too busy trying to lay off deputies, leaving none to protect him.

As I have pointed out before, the issue of a living wage is not an economic one.  The fact that Abele has not qualms about squandering millions of tax dollars shows that it's not a fiscal issue for him either.

No, it's not an economic issue, but a moral one.  And the message Abele is sending with his constant attacks against the poor is that he is willfully trying to keep them in poverty, , which, by any measure, is an immoral act.

Fortunately, the Milwaukee County Board, which has shown the fiscal responsibility and moral strength that Abele can only wish he had, appears to be poised to push the housekeeping contract back so that the living wage can be enforced and lift the workers out of poverty sooner rather than later.

*I would be remiss if I did not also point out that by refusing to give the county housekeepers their jobs back, he is not only not going to save money, as the private company workers will get the living wage as well, but if the housekeepers prevail in their lawsuit, the county will also have to pay them five years of back pay.

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