Public employees aren’t to blame, despite what Republican want us to believe

I’ve written extensively about the rhetoric we’ve heard from both Governor-elect Scott Walker and labor leaders like Marty Beil, the Executive Director of AFSCME, regarding Walker’s belief that state employees need to make deep concessions in pay and benefits in order to help balance the state’s structural budget deficit, but as Dave Zweifel of the Cap Times notes, public employees are being dmeonized for the mess created by the financial meltdown brought to us by legislators and the financial industry:

Gov.-elect Scott Walker and the horde of Republicans who will shortly take over the state Legislature have made it crystal clear that they’re expecting government workers to pay a major price for the mess that governors, legislators and the captains of the financial industry have created over the past several years. And if that means dismantling the public employee unions, so be it.

There will be more furlough days. They’ll need to pay a share of their pension contributions and contribute more to their health insurance plan. It’s only fair, Walker and his gang say, because private workers have been making painful sacrifices, too.

Indeed, it’s the workers — private or public — who are being forced to suffer the most for an economic crisis that was brought on not by them, but by the privileged financial class whose recklessness and greed caused the house of cards it irresponsibly created to come tumbling down.

But, thanks to American taxpayers, the creators of the downfall are already back on top, paying dividends to stockholders and huge bonuses to themselves. At the same time, Republicans in Congress cynically held hostage help for unemployed Americans until the president said “uncle” and agreed to extend tax cuts for those same high rollers collecting their undeserved bonuses.

Same here in Wisconsin. While public workers will need to find ways to pay their household bills, the new Republican leadership is about to bless big business with more tax cuts and handouts, which, we are told, will trickle down to the average working guy and gal and create new jobs. The question is just how much do taxpayers have to send big businesses’ way until they actually create jobs?

If Scott Walker and legislative Republicans want to blame a group of people for the state’s budget woes, they can start by pointing their fingers at those legislators who were in the state legislature in 1999 who voted in favor of 1999 Assembly Bill 495, which increased pension credits retroactively for years of service prior to 2000 for general employees by 10.31%, and for executive employees (like legislators) by 8.25%. WPRI, which isn’t exactly known for its liberal leanings, estimated 1999 A.B. 495 cost taxpayers $14 billion. At the time, then-Assemblyman Scott Walker rightly noted, “Legislators had the benefit of reading [state actuary Scott Dennison’s] report from the Joint Survey Committee that raised all kinds of red flags, and they still passed it overwhelmingly.”

While the $14 billion pension sweetener passed by the legislature may not be solely to blame for the state’s current budget woes, it certainly can’t be helping things any, and the last time I checked, public employees weren’t the ones who passed the sweeteners into law. However, if Scott Walker really wants to blame the parties responsible for the state’s budget mess, he could start by placing blame where it really lies – with lawmakers in Madison instead of wrongly blaming the state’s public employees.


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5 thoughts on “Public employees aren’t to blame, despite what Republican want us to believe

  1. Zach:
    I strongly concur with the sentiment, but by suggesting the pension “sweetener” caused state fiscal problems, you undercut your own argument that state employees aren’t “the problem.” The problem is management of state finances by policymakers, and “the solution” isn’t to hack away at employee compensation but to more effectively manage state expenditures and revenues. On the expenditure side, if the objective is to reduce spending, policymakers should cut and make more efficient programs (such as the massive corrections budget or granting millions to private businesses via the Departments of Commerce and Tourism), not merely reduce compensation across the board while attempting to maintain the same service levels.

  2. not merely reduce compensation across the board while attempting to maintain the same service levels.

    With the hole they’ve dug for us, maintaining the same service levels isn’t even an option.

  3. Agree with Locke. Cut the UW system. Re-shape Wisconsin Healthcare. Re-shape next generation retirement systems. Might have a chance of maintaining our dignity in the coming bad times.

    Is there anyone that would not be embarrassed if Wisconsin goes bankrupt?

  4. Again, it isn’t the public pension system that needs “reforming.” If you want to reduce state expenditures, cut programs and services: eliminate the departments of tourism and commerce, transform traditional 12th grade so students move from the classroom to internships, apprenticeships and community service (and roll the savings back into the education system), cut patronage jobs such as executive assistants, cut the State Patrol (extremely marginal contribution to public safety), stop building new roads (for example, why on earth are folks talking about a $1billion expansion of the interstate system from Madison to Chicago, while simultaneously suggesting we have insufficient resources to maintain existing infrastructure), cut bonuses for wealthy public investment fund managers and athletic coaches, etc. And, yes, the funding sources vary for these expenditures, but they are all expenditures managed by the public sector.

  5. Zach, there’s no one to blame, but the fact remains that these employees ARE receiving those cushy benefits — you just admitted it! I don’t care how it came about (whether someone generously gave it to them or they were demanding them, I think it was probably both), if at one time it was affordable, it no longer can be sustained. You also kind of blow a hole in the perception of the “big bad Republicans” if they were the ones who were giving away generous benefits in the 1990s. Your argument here is full of contradictions, but it’s good to see you coming around. I’m not interested in playing the blame game, I just want benefits to be realistic and sustainable for taxpayers so that the state has a balanced budget.

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