A theme is developing in the spring campaigns for mayor of Madison and for Dane County executive. Some of the leading candidates, especially for county executive, are running against the new governor and his Republican legislature.
That strategy may be popular with voters but will be disastrous at budget time.
Let's start by accepting this startling fact: Scott Walker is the new CEO of the largest employer in this company town. With the support of a like-minded board of directors, the new governor will have direct control of 30,000 workers in Dane County -- and major influence over another 28,000 local government employees.
Those employees will decrease in number and earn significantly less money through cuts in wages and increased contributions to their pensions and health insurance plans. That much is certain.
Not just state workers. County and city government workers are in the same sinking boat. Much of the $4 billion shared revenues collected by the state and distributed to counties and municipalities will be swallowed up by a $3.3 billion deficit. The $12 billion in school aids will take a hit. (Figures are biennial.) The federal bailout of state governments (AKA "the stimulus"), is done and over. Madison, meet Detroit!
How will county exec candidates Scott McDonell and Joe Wineke manage this budget crisis? Who knows? They are too busy running against the bogeyman in the State Capitol. On the mayoral ballot, Dave Cieslewicz is trying to pick a fight with the new guy in town. Remember when Havana Paul Soglin draped insulting banners around the Capitol Square taunting legislators, as he did during his second stint as mayor?
The pander strategy
All of them sound more like Samuel Gompers wannabes than 21st century managers. To the streets!
McDonell, perhaps because he is a state employee in his day job, denounced those who
"... want public servants and our neighbors who rely on strong public services to take it on the chin again. ... (they) want to dismantle our quality of life."
Scottie McD announced for county exec on a state furlough day. ("Today, state government is silent." Oh, the humanity!)
But didn't county government extract unpaid furlough days from its employees? Who was the chairman of the county board that exacted those cuts, Chairman McD?
Former organized labor leader Joe Wineke announced his candidacy in, of all places, the Assembly parlor of the State Capitol, surrounded by Democratic fossils from a better time, including Tony "the Taxer" Earl. Sayeth Wineke:
"Our very way of life in Dane County is under attack (by) ... a new administration here, in this building. ... We are literally fighting for Dane County's future and that fight will take place in these halls just as often, if not more, than it does over at the City-County building. ... So it is my promise that as County Executive, I will fight for public employees."
With what, Joe? With what?
Angry words do not spell leadership
Your friends in the Capitol inhabit the back benches. Dane County's Democratic delegation (Keith Ripp of rural Poynette is the exception) is badly outnumbered in their respective houses (60-38-1 and 19-14 respectively).
Egged on by the fire breathers on the sidelines, will the unionized government employees engage in illegal job actions? Most of Wisconsin will cheer the new Reagan in the statehouse who dispatches them like the air traffic controllers of 1981. Chris Christie is a You Tube sensation for taking on public employees. The much-in-demand New Jersey governor campaigned for Walker as a like-minded political leader.
Only Zach Brandon and Jonathan Barry seem to get it. Brandon's emphasis on growing private sector jobs is the right call. Barry, with experience in both the private and public sectors gets that and the other half of the equation -- holding government costs down.
We can't keep on like this
No one writes more perceptively about Madison than Marc Eisen. "We can't keep on like this," Eisen writes in this week's Isthmus.
"Economic development should be front and center in next spring's mayor and county executive elections. ... For a whole host of venerable liberal reasons, Madison can be hellish on business."
Eisen recounts the city's fumbling of Epic Systems expansion under the lamentable Sue Baumann, a thousand city gears grinding endlessly in a victory of process over results, of progressive pettifoggery over a big-picture vision.
Even as other sectors of the economy improve, Madison and Dane County will face hard times in 2011. Government is no longer a growth industry. Marc Eisen for mayor!
Platinum bonus subscriber goodie:
Best theory I've heard yet for former Dem leader Russ Decker's vote to repudiate the state employee contracts: payback for Jim Doyle's refusal to pardon Decker's state senate mentor, convicted felon Chuck Chvala. Not only is Chvala married to Decker's chief of staff, he is rumored to be the evil genius of the Senate Dem caucus.