In The News
Walker budget shoves workers around, now supporter does same on TV news
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Accustomed as she may be to public speaking as director of public policy for AFSCME District Council 48, Patty Yunk usually engages in that practice at hearings and county board meetings. There she is recognized as a walking encyclopedia of county spending formulas, workforce issues and the annual fiasco budgets perpetrated by County Executive Scott Walker and their impact on the safety net for the community.
Rarely does she get television news time, where the general tendency is that, while details of county operations are vital to understanding, they make lousy segments and are too esoteric for the public or news readers to comprehend.
Unless, of course, Yunk gets pummeled in front of a TV6 camera by an angry Walker supporter at a rally and the footage includes not only the violence but also how a fellow AFSCME staff worker, Bill Mollenhauer, is pushed to the ground trying to protect her – and pops right back up ready to defend her again.
So graphic was the incident – in which the culprit disappeared before police arrived but was later identified and cited – that the footage went online at http://www.fox6now.com/news/witi-091004-county-budget,0,4085031.story after being highlighted during the afternoon football games and then in news teasers October 4. It was finally shown in the middle of the 9 p.m. newscast.
There the station also gave Yunk separate seconds of interviews to explain the protest outside Serb Hall (while Walker was holding a closed-door meeting for supporters, no protests allowed). There were glimpses of the peaceful union workers circling the building and chanting, but nothing of the cruel history behind Walker’s administrative games and tactics.
Year in and out, Walker has blamed the county workforce for the economic ills of the county, the country, the Bush years, everyone but Walker -- though frankly, you need spend only a few minutes with an online database to learn by name and occupation how routinely paid, and even how little paid, these line workers are. Check it out yourself -- one source is http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/dataondemand/33535094.html.
Yet so hardened have become a minority of citizens to the public workers among them, who face the same problems they do but have usually better benefits since so many worked together in unions to win contracts, that Walker has not just escaped consequences for his misstatements. He has turned them into a political platform.
Each year, though the majority of the county board has learned to mistrust him, he has relied on them while beating them up on conservative radio. Every year the supervisors have been forced to rescue his budget disasters, coming up with money for the courts, the mentally ill, the poor, the children the homeless, all to some degree a target of his cuts and ideological approach.
That approach is the Walker variation on the Grover Norquist philosophy that he doesn’t want to kill government, just make it small enough to drown in the bathtub.
Now the drownings – actually the waterboarding if you look at the loss of option for the tortured -- are well established. They may be worse than ever because Walker needs to take bows statewide for “freezing” the county property tax, though he had done no such thing, by any analysis. In reality he has embraced the county board rescues that required, reluctantly, cautious raises in the property taxes, not enough to reverse the problems Walker created. But each year he accepts those changes (which effectively raised the property tax level out of necessity) and then trotted out the same “freeze” deception using the higher figures the board provided him.
The bathtub of 2010 will be particularly hard for the county board to fill by any means. By now the supervisors have nearly exhausted solutions. Politics makes things harder because too obvious a failure, or one that can’t be blamed on Democrats, lessens Walker’s chances of winning the GOP primary in the governor’s race. So the last thing he needs is an active community or county board to expose his false reputation for management frugality or even mere competence. In such a circumstance, he would throw AFSCME workers into the bushes himself if he could silence the opposition.
More politics worsen the situation. The state, given Walker’s animosity to Gov. Doyle, is hardly going to rush to rescue county government. It’s already been beaten up by Walker for pulling his ineptitude out of the fire by taking over operations of the call center. He has also crossed his own GOP colleagues in the Assembly where he once served on the backbench, perhaps because he still remembers their attitudes from those days and has sought to make himself a hero over more experienced politicos with the party’s most conservative wave.
All that explains why Walker is trying even harder to blame the county’s problems on its workers and has even embraced a campaign by CRG to try to sell his budget to the public as mere belt tightening in difficult times. CRG, Citizens for Responsible Government, which rode to attention because of its attacks on county officials who borrowed heavily against the pension fund – and benefited their own friends along the way --- seems to have hardly noticed how much of Walker’s fiscal idea is based on the same borrowing against the future and rewarding privateer cronies.
Walker’s budget mainly relies on stiffing the county’s workforce with pay cuts of as much as 16% -- as a start. Along with across the board cuts, Walker has simply demanded higher pension and health costs for employees and a dozen furlough days.
But AFSCME 48 offered wage freezes and furloughs he has decided to ignore, which likely means the county will have to pay more after arbitration for so clearly rejecting such offers, which the city has already gladly accepted. His dictatorial demands have now caused District Council 48 to lodge formal complaints of bad-faith bargaining
News reports have exposed some of the deceptions in the Walker budget. The county board staff has revealed that an average employee with a $51,000 annual wage would face an $8,400 hit and that the employee strangulation would cut county costs by $41.6 million – but only a portion of that would lessen the property tax, which may actually go up as the county could lose far more in lawsuits the workers will be obliged to file.
Walker defends the cuts as necessary because of the recession, but they are necessary – most supervisors noted – only if you are trying to get elected to higher office and don’t want to have to actually work at helping people.
Supervisor John Weishan said Walker was “abdicating his responsibilities with this budget,” and that is even kinder than the expletives expressed by Board Chairman Lee Holloway who told WisPolitics it was the worst budget from Walker he had ever seen, and he’s seen some doozies.
Yet some supervisors, forced to face the music with a tempo not of their creation, are tempted by the idea of borrowing against the future to delay the clock on millions of dollars in costs. While this is built into Walker’s approach, few called him out on the same sort of borrowing practice that put the entire US into the tank in the first place.
AFSCME is hardly the only county union complaining about Walker’s approach to the future. Local 998 of Amalgamated Transit Union has distributed at protests and to the press a 10-page summary suggesting that Journal Sentinel was duped when it headlined Walker’s statement that “No Bus Routes Would Be Cut.”
The bus drivers pointed out that Walker’s own budget proposal, aside from outlining rate increases across the board ($2.25 from the current $2 for an adult ticket), lists cutbacks, modifications and eliminations affecting a number of routes (including 12, 14, 27, 28, 33, 35 and 68). The budget also eliminated live call center operators and outsourcers janitorial and security services, while cutting the number of busses in operation by 54.
So “if it bleeds it leads” will always dominate newscasts, but barely touched by the media is the reality underneath -- how Walker bleeds rather than leads the citizenry.