When Gov. Jim Doyle announced that all state employees would have to take mandatory 16-day furloughs to help balance the state budget, Diane Tieman was a little confused. The state doesn't pay her salary, so her forced vacation won't save Wisconsin taxpayers a dime.
"I'm totally federally funded," she says. "What good does it do to furlough me? My job doesn't get done."
Tieman works in the Department of Workforce Development, which processes claims for unemployment insurance. The office is swamped these days, and that's another thing that bothers Tieman about the forced time off - people in need of vital services will have to wait even longer.
"We have 30,000 cases backlogged," she says. "That means 30,000 people are waiting for their unemployment claims. We have people coming into our office in tears."
It's the same situation in many other agencies, say several union stewards representing state workers. Funding for many state jobs comes from federal money, some of which will have to be returned. Other positions bring in money to the state - revenue that will decline during furloughs. And some agencies (like prisons and hospitals) have minimum staffing requirements, which means it's possible employees will have to work overtime to cover for their furloughed co-workers, costing the state more money.
Gov. Doyle sold furloughing most of the state's 70,000 employees for 16 days over two years as a way of balancing the budget. A June memo from the governor's office says that salaries and benefits account for over half of the $6.6 billion budget deficit.
However, according to the governor's budget summary, only 51% of state workers in 2009 were paid from the state's general fund. Almost 10,000 employees were paid for with federal dollars. Another 18,800 were paid for with program revenue - meaning their positions were funded through specific fees, fines or grants. And another 5,100 were funded with taxes or fees that can only be used for one purpose (so the savings from furloughs cannot go toward the deficit).
"People don't know what we do. They certainly don't know how we get paid," says Ron Blascoe, a chief steward who recently retired from the Department of Children and Families.
Blascoe thinks Doyle felt pressured to furlough employees because other governors were doing it. "Doyle doesn't want to be the guy who wouldn't furlough his employees," he says. "It's a political calculation."
Doyle's spokeswoman, Carla Vigue, did not return calls for comment.
Where are the buses?
Some fear Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's plan for a model green Northeast Neighborhood is too car-dependent, lacking concrete provisions for transit from the start.
The 2,800-acre neighborhood is being designed with the goal of reducing energy and having 25% of all trips taken by residents by foot, bike or mass transit. But the city's Long Range Transportation Planning Committee wants a plan for getting transit to the neighborhood early on.
The committee's Eric Sundquist says: "If the only way you can get around in the first years is cars, then everything gets built for cars. Transit needs to be part of the mix very early on."
Sundquist thinks it's a good plan overall but wonders, "When does the transit come in?"
Andrew Statz, a mayoral aide, agrees that once driving habits start, they're hard to break. The staff is contemplating running smaller buses or vans at first, gearing up to full-scale routes when the density grows.
But, Statz adds, "Those decisions are made by the mayor and the council."
It was probably the most in-demand video of a Madison Common Council meeting ever. Yet when people clicked on the video on Madison City Channel's website, "Bruer Gesture Draws Complaint," 7/31/09.)
Was there a conspiracy to suppress the video?
"I can absolutely tell you that was 100% not the case," says City Channel manager Brad Clark. "The grand conspiracy theorists can have a field day with this, but it didn't happen."
Dave Faust of the city's IT department, which stores the videos on its server, also denies foul play: "There was nothing deliberate to keep that meeting from being viewed."
The problem, they say, is with the city's outdated indexing software, which lets people click on agenda items to view that part of the meeting. The July 7 meeting is now online, but without the indexing.
City Channel hopes to soon upgrade from the clunky Real Player program it uses to the more popular Quicktime or Windows Media Viewer.