Mining not an economic cure-all, at least not in Minnesota

Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his rubber-stamp legislature should read this before they continue to deceive Wisconsin’s citizens about the “job creation” potential of an iron mine in northwestern Wisconsin.

Mining could be a huge economic boost for the state, say proponents of an iron ore mine in northwestern Wisconsin.

But it hasn’t been a cure-all for the big iron ranges of Minnesota and Michigan.

The areas rank below average in median household income for their states, and their economies have often struggled despite dominating iron ore production in the United States.

I don’t care what Republicans say; it’s clear an open pit iron mine won’t be the “magic cure” to Wisconsin’s job woes.

Whither MKE Cnty: Milwaukee County Board to the Rescue

The War Memorial Board and the Milwaukee Art Museum have been negotiating control over and responsibility for repairs to the 1957 Eero Saarinen designed Memorial Center and the 1972 Kahler addition for over a year. Although an agreement seemed to be within reach near the end of last year, negotiations apparently reached a stalemate in January and the Milwaukee Art Museum approached Milwaukee County for help in mediating the differences.

So this past week, County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic and County Supervisor Gerry Broderick announced that former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske would act as mediator in the dispute. Ms. Geske is handling the mediation on a volunteer basis. Hopefully this will be solved within a reasonable time now.

So this is a great move on the part of the county board…resolving an issue between two of it’s very prominent tenants and protects the integrity of landmark buildings at the lake front. But will the opponents of an active and vital board accuse them of ‘micromanaging’? If they do, it’s a ridiculous position to hold and the county board is right in working this out as quickly as possible.

But the big question is…where the heck was County Executive Chris Abele in all of this? Was he too busy to be bothered by just a minor tiff between county tenants? Nary a word from his office. I thought he was a big proponent of supporting Milwaukee county and Milwaukee county arts and cultural groups? Seems exactly like something that a county executive should have handled!

Whither MKE Cnty: Sup Alexander Suggests Dropping Employee Healthcare

In an incredibly callous proposal, freshman County Supervisor Deanna Alexander called for a study by the county to review dropping health care coverage for the 4,400 current county employees and simply paying the federal fine of $2,000 per employee under the Affordable Care Act. She is suggesting that the county could save $103 million annually considering that the federal fines would amount to $7 million compared to the current county budget of $110 million for health care insurance.

To start with, I find her proposal unethical in the extreme. There is an implied expectation that full time employees are offered health care insurance from their employer. And certainly we’ve heard about employers reducing hours worked per week for their employees in order to avoid provisions in ACA. And there have been rumors of employers doing exactly has Sup. Alexander is suggesting but I haven’t seen any actual proof of that.

Obviously I am not an expert on the ACA but find it hard to believe that it was meant to apply to state and local governments. Of course this couldn’t even be an issue if it weren’t for Act 10. In the normal course of contract negotiations, government employees would negotiate the terms of employment including health insurance coverage. But Wisconsin no longer exists in that real world so nonsense like this can rear its ugly head.

Now, in normal circumstances this would be a joke as well. Employers look at health care costs while setting salaries and wages when making hiring and employment decisions. Most employees who have health insurance look at it as a free perq of the job and don’t know the half of what it costs their employer. But salary or wage plus benefits is what the employer considers as payroll costs. So, how much does it cost your employer to provide you with health insurance? In the past with the exception of a few enlightened employers, this has been essentially a state secret. But this year, if you take a peek at your 2012 W-2, in one of the box 12 (mine is in box 12C), you will see an amount preceded with the code DD that tells you what it costs your employer for your health insurance coverage. It is eye opening (mine is $8,561 and that’s for single coverage).

Where am I going with this? Well I would expect that if an employer is going to drop provisions for employee health care and expect the employee to purchase it on their own, that the employees annual salary or wage be increased to the amount that the employer would save in the cost of health care coverage. This is where Sup. Alexander is grasping at straws…even though Act 10 may technically allow something like this, employee salaries would need to rise to cover the loss of income…that is if the county wants to retain any skilled staff. After the previous cuts to income effected by Act 10, there are very few employees who could take another $8,000 per year hit!

And can the county pay $2,000 in fines per employee and increase wages sufficiently to maintain county services at the same time and still save money?

Side note: considering the Sup. Alexander didn’t seem able to send out emails last week without help or permission…where in hell is she finding the gall to make a call like this?