Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: Bureaucracy

The Pitfalls of Being a Do-Something Governor

Can Wisconsin handle the truth?  We’re about to find out.

Think back to all the politicians you’ve seen that go back on campaign promises.  Make a list of all the candidates that tell you just what you want to hear.  Your pen will run out of ink before you get halfway through.  WPRI polling has shown record levels of distrust towards elected officials, as the public doesn’t think most politicians have any courage or any convictions.

And yet here in Wisconsin, we have a new governor who is both carrying through on a campaign promise and being honest about the state’s fiscal situation.  And he will be excoriated for it.

Today, Governor Scott Walker will be officially introducing his plan to significantly reduce the influence of public employee unions.  His plan will require unionized state workers to contribute 5% to their pensions (they contribute nothing now), and 12% to their health insurance (doubling the 6% they now contribute.)  If Walker’s plan doesn’t pass, unions can expect over 6,000 worker layoffs in order to aid in covering the state’s deficit.

Naturally, the public employee unions will act as if Walker has just personally thrown their grandmother out into the street.  They will use verbs indicating physical violence – “Walker assaults public employees,” or “Walker declares war on government workers.”  Walker will be taking a “meat cleaver” to the children of the state, or better yet, from Senator Spencer Coggs: Walker has introduced “legalized slavery.”  (As if slaves in the South were saying, “boy, I’m glad we don’t make an average of $50,000 per year with full health and pension benefits.  Thank God we’re not Wisconsin government workers.”)

Democratic Assemblyman Mark Pocan fell just short of actually urging state workers to strike, saying he hopes “public employees will make their value expressly known in the days to come.”  Public employee strikes are illegal and have been virtually nonexistent since passage of a landmark mediation-arbitration law in 1977.  How often do you see a publicly elected official urging citizens to break the law?

You’ll see these public employee histrionics because they have been lulled into complacency.  We’re coming off a decade where unions were told they could operate as-is despite budget cuts.  We’ve been told we can continue to spend despite plummeting tax receipts.  We’ve been told we can eat all we want and never get fat.  We’ve had a Legislature and Governor unwilling to make tough decisions, thereby throwing the state budget $3.6 billion out of whack.

In November, we elected a governor who said he was going to do something about it.  And now he is.  And the unions and their sycophantic legislators are serving notice – don’t ever take the steps necessary to balance the state’s books, or else.  A lesson Scott Walker’s predecessor took to heart.

You, Too, Can Be a State Government Employee

Over the past few months, we here at WPRI have issued a number of reports regarding the fact that state government employees pay nothing for their pensions.  And for suggesting that state employees actually pay the “employee” portion of their pension benefits, we’ve gotten significant blowback.  (See “Growing Anger Over Free Government Pensions” from our Refocus Wisconsin project.)

As it turns out, it’s not just actual state employees that can live the dream of paying nothing for their retirement benefits.  Just take a quick trip over to the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds website, and fill out the Retirement Benefits Calculator the ETF provides on its site.

In order to figure out your lifetime annuity, all you need to do is fill in your date of birth, the date on which you hypothetically plan to retire, and your three hypothetical highest earning years.

For the purposes of this exercise, I plugged in that I was a 20-year teacher with a 3-year high salary of $75,000, $76,000, and $77,000, and would be retiring in 2026.  As a result of my 20 years of service, I would receive an estimated  lifetime annuity of $$1,669.89 per month.  (I have the option of getting more up front and less on the back end if I choose the accelerated payment option.)  All, of course, for my monthly required contribution of zero dollars and zero cents.

So at your next dinner party, fire up the website, gather the guests around, and play “guess what my monthly annuity would be if I were a state employee?”  It’s bound to be a hit.

See the benefit calculator here.  (Click the “I have read the disclaimer” link at the bottom.)

Xtreme Bean Counting

Have you been looking to join the high-pressure world of counting things? Are you interested in the fast-moving job of reading pieces of paper and entering numbers on those papers into a computer?

According to this promotional video, you may be just enough of a thrill-seeker to work at… the Wisconsin Department of Revenue! Get ready for the nonstop action of poring over tax forms and entering that data into a computer.  Sense of adventure (and willingness to take short lunch breaks) required.

In the video, intended to get people fired up about the bean-counting over at DOR, it mentions that the agency is reponsible for \”providing property tax relief for the taxpayers of Wisconsin.\” Actually, the Legislature does that via changes in the law – DOR just cuts the checks.  In fact, there\’d be a little more \”property tax relief\” available had DOR not spent money on this ridiculous video.   DOR taking credit for property tax relief shows they\’re trying to fool prospective employees into thinking that all the calls they get from taxpayers are going to be friendly calls thanking them for all the wonderful tax relief they provide.

Oh, and did I mention that the DOR workforce is diverse?  They only point it out three times in the video.  As if some guy sitting at home in his underwear watching \”The View\” is going to turn down a job offer because DOR doesn\’t employ enough Eskimos.

Of course, DOR is a vital department to the well-being of the state.  The more truant taxpayers they can track down, the less you will have to pay.  But it\’s not exactly like they\’re picking from a pool of recruits whose only options are to either join the Navy SEALS or enter data from tax forms into a computer.

Greatest Government Program. Ever.

Part of the fun of researching issues is the stuff you stumble across that you\’re not even looking for.

For instance, today I uncovered an old report from a government program that actually paid cash to state employees for offering up ideas to save money.  It was called the \”State Employees Suggestion Program.\”  They actually had a big banquet where they gave state employees awards for suggesting budget cuts.  And I am not even kidding.

In fact, here are some details found in this report on the program from 1988:

During 1988, 50 cash awards totalling $4,945 were given out for suggestions from state employees, and 54 certificates of commendation were issued.  According to the report, suggestions offered in 1988 saved state taxpayers $680,580.  In the previous five years, it was estimated that the program saved taxpayers $3.5 million.

Special recognition goes to Martin Romero at the Department of Administration, who won the 1988 \”Suggester of the Year\” award for suggesting WEPCO apply for energy conservation rebates offered by the company itself.  Apparently, it saved $600,000 that year (out of $680,580 total).

Much thanks goes to the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution, which was awarded the 1988  \”Agency of the Year\” award, due in part to the fact that the institution generated an average of one suggestion per eight employees.  People are still talking about that year – not even Barry Bonds is going to touch that one.

That banquet had to be a lot of fun.  Can\’t you just imagine the electricity generated by a room full of disgruntled state employees? You\’d probably sitting there with 50 other people whose suggestions to save money were probably to fire you.

I checked the statute that created the program, and it deals with a different topic now – so I assume the program is now gone.  I say bring it back, if for no other reason than to let Martin \”Scissorhands\” Romero defend his crown.