Six candidates have declared their candidacy for Dane County executive. I am waiting for one of them to speak out on the proposed four-year contract with its employee unions. That's right: four years!
Normally, county contracts run one or two years. But organized labor is in a well founded panic to get it while it can because the ground has shifted under them. Not that Dane County's elected leaders seem to have noticed.
As Tuesday's letter transmitting the bare outlines of the contract admitted, "The negotiation was completed quickly."
Two blocks up the hill from the City-County Building sits a new governor and a Legislature who stopped a state employee contract dead in its tracks. And THAT contract called for a 3 percent CUT in pay. What's more, it was for only two years -- of which 18 months had already expired!
Dane County's proposed contract would INCREASE pay by 3 percent, albeit on the last day of this year.
That means the new compensation package won't screw up the already enacted 2011 budget but whomever is elected the new county executive is going to be saddled with a 3 percent hike in his or her first budget.
Contrast that with newly inaugurated Gov. Scott Walker, who insists that public employees' wages and benefits need to be held up so that he could have "maximum flexibility" to handle the state's budget crisis. That flexibility includes total decertification of public employee unions in Wisconsin. Yeah, I guess the county's negotiation was completed quickly.
Not that the contract should be ratified quickly. Haste makes waste.
I am still waiting to hear from county exec candidates Zach Brandon, Joe Wineke, Joe Parisi, Spencer Zimmerman, and Eileen Bruskewitz as to whether they, too, would like to have maximum flexibility to handle the county's budget crisis. I'm not waiting for Scott McDonell because he has signed off on this contract as county board chair and acting county exec.
Dane County doesn't know things have changed
We have heard from the man who should have been a candidate. Jonathan Barry says:
Have to await the details of course, but this four year deal feels predictably imprudent given the environment Dane County will be facing. Shared revenues and state aids are most certainly going to be reduced in the coming years and there will likely also be tighter revenue and taxing limits passed by the legislature.
It is understandable that county employees feel slighted when they compare it to their usual expectations of 'normal' times. But that's the problem: a 'normalcy bias' that is more akin to simple denial that things won't change. It's not hard to envision that the county will be forced to tax to the limit, cut programs for the needy along with programs that will hurt everybody, and then impose more furloughs and reduce employee numbers.
It's not just that Walker won the election, it's simply that the electorate asked for change in taxing and spending and borrowing patterns. Things are going to change, but Dane County doesn't appear to know it from this proposed contract.
Thank you, Jonathan.
Who shall decide? The people or moneyed interests?
He raises the question of just whom are our county leaders protecting: the taxpayers or their unionized employees. The latter will show their gratitude in hefty campaign contributions to their benefactors. What about the taxpayers?
County Board members received an outline of the contract in an e-mail on Tuesday, barely two days before being asked to vote on the contracts tonight.
That is not enough time to render an informed decision, which is why Jon Barry began his statement by saying we are awaiting details.
That is why I encourage county board members to postpone a decision until its next meeting, two weeks hence. These members are, after all, part-time. Most of them work their 8 to 5 jobs during the day. The 37 of them have a total of three aides among them. Contrast that to the State Assembly, where even a freshman backbencher in the State Assembly has his/her own staffer -- plus the resources of the legislative fiscal, reference, and audit bureaus.
The county's budget crisis
I said the county has a budget crisis. Its bond rating has been downgraded, meaning that it must pay more to borrow money. Certainly, it will receive less in shared revenue from the State of Wisconsin. Jim Doyle used the federal stimulus money to temporarily paper over its wretched finances. (The Pew Center for the States places Wisconsin's fiscal health among the 10 worst.)
Now it is revealed that the county for the last three years has been taking the state's co-payment for all those swampland purchases and using it to pad the general spending budget and not pay down the borrowed money. That is, itself, a compelling argument against cost-sharing as it only encourages profligacy by hiding the true cost of government.
The proposed contract also includes 100 percent payment of pensions, eliminating the current caps on pension contributions by the county, prohibitions on contracting out and continuation of full pay for all but the very most expensive health plan.
The contract also "includes an opportunity to reopen the contract to discuss wages exclusively in each of the three years." Question: at whose option? Can the county decide not to reopen unilaterally?
Mr. Chairman, move to postpone consideration of he agreements proposed in Resolution 246, 10-11 until the next regularly scheduled meeting on January 20.
Is two weeks too much to ask?