As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Scott Walker used his "emergency budget authority" to discharge 27 security guards that secure the courthouse and two other county buildings. In addition, Walker will replace the guards with a private security firm that can do the same job for a reduced price. The change is estimated to save the county $400,000 for the remainder of the year.
But Walker's use of "emergency budget authority" has created a stir with the County Board because it sidestepped their capacity to rule on his resolution - an issue they had already rejected last November. County Supervisor Michael Mayo called Walker's emergency budget authority "poppycock" and told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Walker was creating his own emergency. County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, who oversees a Latino district in Milwaukee, plans to introduce legislation to undo Walker's plan.
Currently, Milwaukee County has a budget deficit of about $10 million. The County Board, following Walker's lead, has already approved of 10 unpaid furlough days, in addition to 12 imposed earlier this year, for nearly 1,500 county employees. This cost cutting move is estimated to save the county a total of $4 million, which leaves the county with a budget hole of $6 million.
Unless the AFSCME, the state's largest union, comes to accept concessions already built into the 2010 budget, it will force Walker's hand to provide even more furloughs and layoffs in order to keep the budget in the red. Walker said it's less about the budget and more about fairness since non-unionized county employees have already acquired the same concessions that the AFSCME is refusing to accept. But ultimately, the choice is up to the AFSCME. By not accepting concessions, they not only create a budget imbalance for the county, but they risk losing more of their members in the process.
Since he's running for governor, Walker is in somewhat of a quagmire. If he fails to resolve the $10 million budget hole, local democrats will continue to ask the public if they want a governor who can't balance his own budget. If Walker balances the budget by forcing county employees to accept concessions, then democrats will say he's playing politics with people's lives while punishing hard working union members. It's a lose-lose situation in the arena of politics, but Walker has the winning hand.
Ultimately, Milwaukee County is in serious fiscal trouble, and Walker has made no secret of the fact that his allegiance is to the taxpayer. So far, the county board has not shown any real willingness to make tough decisions in order to see a balanced budget. This much we've seen last November when the County Board rejected Walker's cost savings to mental health services, cuts to park jobs, and the installation of $1 an hour parking meters at the lakefront. All in all, the County Board overrode 21 out of Walker's 34 vetoes, which means the County Board has made Walker's effort at fiscal responsibility all the more difficult.
Interestingly, County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic is planning to introduce legislation in an attempt to reverse Walker's emergency resolution. And for what reason? It appears she's frustrated that Walker is acting unilaterally without the County Board's consent. What Dimitrijevic fails to understand is that the law allows the County Executive the right to make emergency decisions to resolve County's budget just in case the County Board decides that fiscal restraint isn't a high priority.
If Dimitrijevic gets her way, it's inevitable that county workers will suffer even more furloughs and layoffs. In terms of budgeting, unpaid furloughs are considered a temporary fix to a more continual problem of a county living beyond its means. This is not a preferable choice to Walker's long-term fix of privatizing the courthouse security, which saves the county nearly half a million in costs per year for the same services.
The question ultimately is, in a recessionary period where tax revenues are down and government debt is up, do we want a fiscal hawk in charge, or someone who believes that the taxpayer solely exists so county workers can have jobs? By declaring a budget emergency, Walker has doubled down on his pledge on fiscal responsibility. Walker's privatization of the county courthouse security has provided taxpayers with a long-term solution to a long-term problem.