After Scott Walker delivered his budget proposal, some political players created commotion that provided the media with some entertaining fodder.
First, Supervisors Peggy West and Elizabeth Coggs issued a press release accusing Walker is trying to look like a "Knight in Shining Armor". They didn't like the fact that Walker agreed to fund the County's EMS program, Disability Aid, the Family Care Program, the homeless shelters, and also a substantial portion of the transit system. During a recession, significant cuts are widely expected, but instead of cutting, Walker agreed to fund virtually every discretionary program in Milwaukee County. It is interesting, however, that County Board Supervisors are concerned about how good Walker looks to the public eye.
Second, Lee Holloway, Chairman of the County Board, recently compared Scott Walker to a Ku Klux Klansman while accusing him of race-baiting. This didn't bode well in the community, and some have taken action. Several County Supervisors have rebuked him in their press releases; the editorial staff of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called his charges baseless; and even Milwaukee's very own Jessie Jackson, Eugene Kane, called his comments senseless. After the local pounce, Holloway softened his stance a bit by retracting the Klansman remark, but still maintains his baseless charge that Walker race-baits.
And finally, loyal liberal bloggers are making personal attacks on Walker's salary and home life. Let's take a closer look at the charges leveled by one such blogger, Cory Liebmann.
In a post entitled, "Walker Lives Large as Workers get the Shaft", Liebmann makes several unwarranted claims. But before we get to that, let's start with a synopsis of Liebmann's piece. In the first paragraph, Liebmann discusses the sacrifice County Workers are asked to make in order to run a fiscally responsible budget. The general tone is that hard workers shouldn't have to make such a sacrifice.
In the second paragraph, Liebmann goes after Walker's county salary. He claims that Walker gave himself a 72% raise while County Workers are expected to take a 13% cut in pay and benefits.
And in the third Paragraph, Liebmann goes after the cost of Walker's new home, which he calculates to be a $120,000 upgrade from his former residence. He goes on to count the bedrooms, bathrooms, the living area, and the acreage to paint a picture of luxurious living. The idea is that Walker shouldn't be upgrading while county employees are downgrading.
Liebmann complains that hard working people are getting the shaft so Scott Walker can run his "credit-card budget". By credit card budget, Liebmann refers to the county government assuming a "massive amount of debt" through increased borrowing. To this charge, I have already demonstrated, in another piece, that Walker's budget will not increase the government debt by a single penny. Let me march through it quickly.
Walker's budget proposes an increase in borrowing for the first two years in order to create a stimulus effect in the local economy. But in years 2011 and 2012, the county will borrow nothing. This will counterbalance the overall county borrowing and will meet the county's pre-established standard of $30 million per year. Therefore, the county debt will not increase by a single penny. This is analogous to spending a month's worth of grocery money in one day rather than waiting to spend it incrementally each week.
Liebmann claims that Scott Walker gave himself a 72% pay raise while workers are forced to take a 13% pay cut in benefits. This is not true. When Walker first assumed office in 2002, he committed to give back $60,000 a year from his $130,000 annual income for the duration of his first two terms. These voluntary givebacks produced about $360,000 in savings for the county, thus showing that Walker was willing to make monetary sacrifices. This March, however, Walker scaled back his monetary givebacks and settled for a $10,000 a year giveback for the duration of his current term.
In other words, out of the goodness of Walker's charitable heart, he returned a quarter of a million dollars of his salary to the county. There were no legal or ethical mandates that he return a single penny of his earned pay. And when he agreed to reduce his giveback to $10,000 a year, weasels like Cory Liebmann characterize it as a 76% raise. In plain terms, this is called a lie. Liebmann knows full well that Walker hasn't given himself a raise, but he has no problems characterizing that way to make Walker look like a hypocrite.
The bottom line is that Walker made charitable sacrifices for 7 years - sacrifices he didn't have to make. For liberals to criticize Walker for reducing his giveback is partisan gamesmanship. In comparable terms, this like giving 10% of your earnings to the Red Cross for years, but when you decide to scale back a little, they send you a biting letter accusing you of selfishly boosting your own income. How neat is that?
And finally, Liebmann does some digging to find details on a home that the Walker family purchased in 2007. He says,
"Maybe Walker forgot that rank-and-file workers have mortgages to pay as well. Heck, just Walker's upgrade may be worth more than the entire value of some Milwaukee County workers' homes. Walker's new home is nothing to scoff at, at least from a working person's perspective."
This is what you would call an "Ad Hominem" argument, and I will explain why in a little bit; just hang with me.
Milwaukee County is in dire fiscal straits. A recession has swept the nation hitting Wisconsin pretty hard. In Milwaukee County, the unemployment rate has reached 10%, which means less government revenue can be collected to neutralize the budget. The recession has also affected sales tax revenues and ultimately pushed the state to cut aid to Milwaukee County. Furthermore, a $50 million pension scandal rocked Milwaukee nearly a decade ago and is currently responsible for our $90 million shortfall. As one can see, Scott Walker has his hands full in trying to produce a fiscally responsible budget in a rather discordant environment.
Liebmann knows that a $90 million budget shortfall requires a sacrifice somewhere, whether it be cuts to the county's discretionary programs, employee layoffs, a reduction of employee benefits, cuts in bus routes, or other facets of the government. If Walker had cut funding for the County's EMS, then liberals would have complained that areas of the county would not receive paramedic services. If Walker had cut bus routes, then they would have complained that senior citizens and disabled persons wouldn't have a way to get to the grocery store. If Walker had cut funding for the homeless shelters, then they would have called Walker a callous conservative that doesn't care about the poor and needy.
Instead of cutting funds to programs that help the needy, Walker is requiring County Employees to give up more. His budget proposal will cut the wages of county employees by 3%, require a 5% pension contribution, and compel a greater contribution toward their own health care benefits. All in all, these moves will save the county $41 million while create a more even balance between the public and private sectors.
Instead of addressing the county's fiscal situation, Liebmann digs into Walker's personal life. Here is where the Ad Hominem comes into play. Walker's new home has absolutely nothing to do with our $90 million shortfall. It is no secret that the Milwaukee County Executive's salary is more than the average county employee. For some reason, government officials felt it was appropriate to compensate the County Executive with a six figure salary. That being said, fair is fair, right? So it's time to play a liberal game. Come on, it will be fun.
Since we're talking about homes, let's look another home, shall we? Does the name Bill Mollenhauer ring a bell to anybody? He was the union protester and recent media darling that was violently thrown into a push by a belligerent man at the recent CRG rally. Well, it just so happens that Mollenhauer, an AFSCME representative in Milwaukee County, owns a downtown condo on E. Juneau Ave. Can anyone take a wild stab at what the condo assessment value is for this "rank and file" union worker? Yep, you guessed it. The assessment value is $358,000, which is MORE than Walker's new home.
Hey Cory, two can play a class warfare game. Now getting back to our topic.
Walker made his sacrifice and returned a quarter of a million to the taxpayers, and now he is requiring a similar sacrifice from County Employees. I will make this clear. Asking for a 13% cut in benefits is a hard pill to swallow. However, the reality is this: over 48% of the county budget goes to fund wages and benefits for county employees. And currently, county employees pay less for their health care benefits and contribute less to their own pensions than the private sector. Scott Walker is making the right choice by requiring county employees to sacrifice for the good of the community.
Walker isn't the only government executive providing a harsh wake-up call to government employees. Kathleen Falk, the Executive from Dane County, plans to increase property taxes by almost 8% while reducing the pay of county workers by 5%. In contrast, Scott Walker is not raising property taxes and is proposing a more modest 3% pay reduction.
Manitowoc County Executive Bob Siegelbauer proposed a 5% pay reduction for county employees and said, "I envision there will be layoffs affecting virtually every area of county government". Again, Walker is proposing a more moderate 3% pay reduction.
Brown County Executive Tom Hinz proposed a budget that would cut social programs, cut 13 county employee positions, and raise taxes by 1.5%. Again, Walker is not cutting social programs, nor is he raising taxes.
La Crosse County is raising it's tax levy by more than 5% and still cutting human services. Eau Claire County is raising their property tax levy by 3%. Sauk County is looking for a 3.35% tax increase. Walworth County is expected to cut county jobs, shift resources, and reduce county spending. I'm sure you get the point. Scott Walker isn't the only County Executive proposing cuts in a county budget.
Counties across the state are making sacrifices. This is a reality. So instead of counting the bedrooms and bathrooms in the homes of County Executives, perhaps it's better we use our time more wisely to debate the budget on its merits and possibly provide better solutions to the current fiscal crisis.