Milwaukee and Iowa counties may be on opposite sides of the state, but the two county boards share a similar attitude when it comes to their constituents.
The Iowa County Board voted 12-8 last Tuesday to issue the $6.1 million in bonds for the financing of a new Health and Human Services Building. The county board had been reluctant to issue the bonds while a lawsuit over the new building by Concerned Citizens of Iowa County was pending. Despite a likely appeal in the lawsuit (the building’s opponents still have 23 days) the county board was erroneously informed that there was no knowledge of pending litigation and they decided to press ahead with issuing the bonds.
If there is a successful appeal, maybe the county board can use the bonds to pay their legal bills and to fix the construction site.
The new $6.477 million government office building has attracted significant opposition in the County. Concerned Citizens of Iowa County were able to get 2151 signatures to try to force a referendum, the equivalent of 25% of the vote total for governor in the last election in the county. However, the county board never considered the petitions.
County Supervisor John Meyers said of his fellow board members that voted for issuing the bonds, “They have nothing but contempt for the public and the law.”
In Milwaukee, the County Board voted 7-7 against a reduction in their pension benefit multiplier from 2% to 1.6%, despite demanding similar benefit reductions from county employees. The board imposed the lower pension multiplier on the 15% of county employees not represented by unions, and included seeking this concession from union employees as part of the county budget.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has already reduced his pension multiplier to 1.5%. Walker also has given back $370,000 in salary since he took office.
Five board members, Dimitrijevic, Holloway, Johnson, Lipscomb, Mayo and Thomas, voted against cutting their pension benefits but had previously voted for cutting the pension benefits of county employees. As Mel Brooks would say, it’s good to be the king.
Board members opposed to the pension reduction claimed that they supported an alternative plan of merging the county’s pension plan with the state pension plan. However, such a merger would be complicated by the county’s unfunded $400 million pension liability, as well as the little requirements of having the merger approved by the state legislature and the governor. It would also have to be approved by the unions which, given their intransigence to accept the concessions asked for by the county board for this year’s budget, cannot be assumed.
Board members could have passed the reduction in their pension benefit multiplier saving Milwaukee County money this year and still pursued the idea of merging Milwaukee County’s pension plan with the state pension plan. However, the motion to study merging the county pension program with the state pension program was a substitute for reducing the board members’ pensions. If the board members voted for the study, they would not have considered reducing their own pensions. As a result, the study also failed on a 7-7 tie vote.
It was a pretty convenient trick by the county board members to avoid responsibility for not reducing their own pension benefits even as county board members demand that sacrifice from county workers.
Ironically, the county supervisors decided not to act on their own pension reductions the same day they approved contracts with two employee unions. In exchange for ten fewer furlough days and no reduced headcount, the unions agreed to no wage increases, paying $30 per month more towards health insurance, and the 1.6% pension benefit multiplier. Perhaps taxpayers should threaten county board members with some unpaid furlough days.
County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo told WUWM that he hoped that by passing the reduction in the pension benefit for county supervisors, they would set a good example for the unions with whom the county was still negotiating. Unfortunately, looking to the Milwaukee County Board to set a good example is like looking to Ryan O’Neal as a model of parenting.
It will be interesting to see if the other unions continue to dig in their heels using the county board’s “example” as an excuse for not accepting the wage and benefit concessions asked of them.
By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute