Thursday, November 16, 2006

Scott Walker: "It's their budget now."

No, County Executive Walker, it's your budget now, too.

By vetoing the entire county budget earlier this week, Scott Walker was again playing politics with the county budget crisis. Now that his veto has been decisively overridden by the County Board in a 14-5 vote, when the county is still in crisis next year -- which it would've been regardless of this year's budget make-up -- Walker can conveniently say that it wasn't him that did it.

Walker calls his veto "bold." That's ridiculous.

The people of Milwaukee County didn't vote him into office to tell the County Board it's his way or the highway -- they voted him into office to work with the County Board on the budget.

Even the Journal Sentinel called out Walker on his politically motivated reasons for vetoing the entire budget.

From Tuesday's paper:

Walker could not easily use his veto pen to deal with the budget shortfall issue. By throwing the whole budget out instead, he accomplishes several things in addition to portraying himself as protecting the county's long-term fiscal health:

• He takes what appears to be a stacked deck against him on veto overrides and potentially puts pressure on some supervisors to vote with him by making the stakes larger.

• He avoids issuing vetoes of certain politically sensitive add-backs, such as those related to public safety, that could come back to haunt him.

• He keeps alive the issue of who will have to take responsibility if county workers get pink slips. Supervisors say it was Walker's idea to privatize, and he should get the blame or credit. Walker says supervisors are trying to have it both ways - keeping the jobs alive but not fully paying for them.

What irks me most about Walker's move is that I actually agreed with him on a couple points on the budget, such as what to do with the county pools.

The plan of Parks Director Sue Black to modernize the pool system in the coming years was the best route to go. The cost of operating and maintaining a highly dated pool system has caught up with the county, and a change is needed. Walker was on the right track in September when he agreed to modernize the Lincoln Park pool in exchange for the closure of other pools in the system.

But by exchanging his veto pen for a veto grenade earlier this week, Walker forfeited the opportunity to negotiate this point and others. He simply gave the supervisors an all or nothing ultimatum, and they chose all -- some of them reluctantly, but not necessarily incorrectly.

These aren't the actions of a responsible county executive. Nor are they the actions of someone who's committed to solving this crisis over the long haul.

It appears Walker still has his eyes on the prize -- that prize just happens to be above and beyond Milwaukee County.

3 Comments:

Blogger Russ said...

Seth
Walker bashing accomplishes nothing meaningful. The problem in Milwaukee County and all of Wisconsin is since 2000 we've had declining median houshold income. There may be one exception Dane County because such a high percentage of people work for governments.
I've had discussion with Walker about falling median household income and believe me he's well aware of the problem.
The exception however are government workers, their incomes are not declining, in fact they're rising.
So what we have are median private sector housholds declining and median public sector households increasing. While that may be great public workers it's very unfair for private workers.
While county supervisors may be proud of themselves for overriding Walker and raising taxes they should ashamed of themselves for taking more money from low and middle class private sector households that do not have the ability to pay.
Median household data is readily available from the Census Bureau and Labor Dept. labor statistics.

November 16, 2006  
Blogger WatchdogMilwaukee.com said...

Russ,
You're deluding yourself. Walker didn't line item veto the cuts because he didn't want to be spotted out as the exec who cut funding for veterans, the disabled, for public safety and for parks.

If he was sincere about his goals and he TRULY thought the board did a bad thing, he could have line item vetoed the additions. Instead he took the cowards way out.

November 17, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Russ,

You seem to be pretty hung up on this median household income issue. Dems couldn't agree with you more -- median household income needs to increase. Unfortunately, though, the middle class has been largely stuck in a rut in Wisconsin and the rest of the country since the '70s, while incomes at the top have been skyrocketing. In short, it's the failure of trickle down economics that was ushered in with the Reagan administration.

Your answer, though, seems to be to freeze all taxes in order to compensate, which I think is misplaced at best. Taxes go to public services that benefit the middle and lower incomes the most. By cutting public revenue, you're only hurting those classes more. What needs to be done is re-structure the tax system to shift more burden to those high income earners who have received the bulk of the breaks over the past twenty-five years, and there also needs to be more public scrutiny of top executive compensation in light of cuts in worker compensation, such as what just happened at Harley (in spite of projected billion dollar profits at that company).

Frontline did an excellent documentary a few months ago on how pensions are being exchanged for 401(K) style plans in the top companies across the country. The real story in that is not the retirement plan switch as much as it is the manner in which companies are making the switch; namely, by declaring bankruptcy to get out of contracts that were negotiated with middle income workers in good faith. The new take-it-or-leave-it contracts offered to those workers have decreased pay and increased benefit costs, which would be understandable if it wasn't for the fact that as the worker compensation is decreasing, the companies are giving huge raises to top executives and doing so in spite of declaring bankruptcy!

Here's part of a story in the Wall Street Journal from last April that exposes the troubling trend: "At a time when companies are scaling back health benefits for other retirees, former top executives at many corporations are receiving partial or full lifetime medical coverage on top of pensions valued at millions of dollars, a Wall Street Journal analysis of dozens of recent securities filings indicates. . . .

"The trend spans industries, and it is common at airlines, which have been among the most aggressive in scaling back retirement benefits for the rank and file. Continental Airlines, for example, provides health care 'at no cost' for retired Chairman Gordon Bethune and his dependents, the company's proxy statement notes. . . .

"Citigroup Inc. promised to pay the premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for both health and dental care for Chairman Sanford I. Weill and his wife now, and it will continue to provide those benefits for the rest of the Weills' lives, the company's proxy statement says. . . .

"If current trends continue, the disparity between what a company's regular employees and its top executives receive in retirement is likely to widen. Most companies have set a ceiling on what they will pay for retirees' health coverage and are passing on cost increases to them. When the premiums get too high, retirees who can't afford the cost will drop out or won't sign up."

So if you want to know why incomes for middle earners have decreased, look at the top earners, not public employees. It's a joke to think that government workers are getting rich off their jobs while the rest of the country toils with the scraps. When you want to make money, you leave public work. Just ask any politician turned corporate board member, they'll tell you.

And just for the record, I was hardly bashing Scott Walker in this post. In fact, I said I agreed with him on some points on the budget. What I criticized was his unwillingness to work with the Board on the budget, instead opting to shirk his job duties for political reasons. If that's considered bashing, then our public discourse is in a sorry state.

November 17, 2006  

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