There's a line being pushed in the last few weeks that somehow the city of Madison's budget challenges are the fault of its municipal employee unions. Labor Day weekend is a good time to nip this one in the bud.
Two points need to be made here.
First, the 2012 city budget, while tough, is no tougher than the last three budgeting rounds, in which the Common Council and I delivered honestly balanced budgets with no significant service cuts and no raids on our long-term reserves. And second, what challenges the city faces weren't made worse by new union contracts approved earlier this year. Rather, they were made less severe by those contracts.
Think back to Thursday, February 17. The world was being turned upside down. Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislative majorities looked like they were going to gut collectively bargaining within a week's time. So, the unions and I took action and approved contract extensions that night that would keep collective bargaining alive at least in the city of Madison for a few more years.
This action was almost universally supported. No one spoke against it at the council meeting and all 19 alders present, including some of the most conservative, voted for the contract extensions. Even then-candidate Paul Soglin marched with alders and union members and me to the meeting where the vote was taken, indicating his support.
That same day, the 14 Democratic Senators left town and bought us some more time. So we worked with the unions and arrived at $6 million in savings in union contracts for 2012. So, far from costing the city and making the 2012 budget gap wider, the unions and I worked responsibly through the collective bargaining process to ease the burden next year.
So, don't believe the hyperbole and don't buy into the argument that unions are to blame for tight budgets.
What problems we face lie solely with Governor Walker and his slash and burn policies when it comes to state aids. Nonetheless, this budget can be balanced without laying off cops and firefighters or significantly reducing other city services, and without unwisely raiding the city's long-term savings account. A progressive government can get this done.