Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fighting over the ruins of Milwaukee County

Xoff and Seth Zlochota think it's somehow important that Scott Walker has decided to fully fund the County's pension obligations now that he is not running for governor. Let's assume they are right. He was acting like a politician.

What they don't deny is that the County has to take all that money - enough to triple what we spend on parks or enough to turn the bus lines into a cornucopia of mass transit-ty goodness - and send it to people who don't work for it anymore. What they don't deny is that people who were, until the yokels from Citizens for Responsible Government got done with them, the scions of the Democratic Party ( including union officials who had been feted at Democratic Party functions since I was a Democrat and Howie Mandel had hair), left Milwaukee County looking like Dresden after a night of B-52s and Lancasters.

To blame Walker for this is like blaming the New York Port Authority for not providing its tenants with space on 9/12.


Seth Zlotocha said...

My point, Rick, is that Walker has been county exec for five years and he has continuously postponed making tough decisions on the county budget, choosing instead to lambaste the prior administration and the unions for cheap political points any chance he got -- all the while proposing unrealistic and unhelpful stagnated-revenue budgets and publicly threatening his handpicked appointees when they didn't cut enough. But now, all of a sudden, he wants us to take the budget situation and his new-found intent on actually dealing with it seriously.

As for the pension deal, that was done under the direction of Mercer actuaries who the County is now suing for $100 million based on their misdirection. They told the County Board and the Ament administration the deal would be cost-neutral, which turned out to be wrong -- as we know now, way wrong. Hopefully Walker's attempts at cheap political points don't seriously jeopardize the suit, although Mercer is already trying to use them against the County's case.

Despite Mercer's actions, however, the public responsibility for the deal still lies with Ament and the members of the Board, regardless of the way the suit turns out. But those people have been out of office for five years now and Walker has done nothing to help the situation in Milwaukee during that time -- that public responsibility is his.

Instead of helping, Walker has hoped to be gone before the sh** hit the fan. Now that he sees that's not gonna happen anytime soon, his tactic has been to start a doom and gloom tour featuring himself as the protagonist and the unions & their good-faith contract negotiations as the evil villains.

Now that's taking "acting like a politician" to a whole new level -- and the direction it's heading is downward.

Just out of curiosity, how many times did you hear Doyle scream "Tommy and McCallum did it!" when he was digging the state out of the biggest fiscal deficit in Wisconsin history over the past four years? I guess he just wasn't acting enough like a politician.

Rick Esenberg said...

No, he has consistently made tough decisions, i.e. he is insisting that the County live within its means. Those means aren't much because we have mortgaged the future for public employee unions in those good faith negotiations.

If the County can recover from Mercer, wonderful. Whether it can or not will have nothing to do with what you call Walker's "antics." The issue referred to in the paper is whether or not Mercer assurred th County that the backdrop would be revenue neutral. On that question, whatever Walker says (and I don't think he was addressing that question) is inadmissable because he wasn't there. Anything that he says is, at best, hearsay.

I understand the argument that the old guys are gone and so the taxpayers should just bend over, but its not going to work that way. What Ament and, if you wish, Mercer and the public employee unions did to Milwaukee County cannot be remedied by business as usual; at least not without chasing the middle class entirely into the exurbs. At the end of the day, we are going to be looking at radical restructuring of collective bargaining agreements, changes in governing law and, in conjunction with the latter, perhaps even the financial reorganization of Milwaukee County. This is one time that the feeders at the public trough went too far.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Your assertion that Walker "has consistently made tough decisions" isn't backed up by the fact that he initially proposed underfunding the pension system by $27 million last year (it was the County Board that added $8 million more to Walker's initial proposal, bringing the amount underfunded down to $19 million).

That's the point of my post -- if he was serious about dealing with this budget situation, he would've demanded fully funding the pension liability last year like he's promising to do this year.

Kevin Ryan said...

The sad fact is, the County could win $100 million in the Mercer lawsuit, and it would do almost nothing to fix the structural problems.