Saturday, February 19, 2011

Reflections from Madtown on the week that is

Needless to say, it's kinda crazy over here right now. I took a long lunch on Wedensday to check it out, and it seems to have grown from there (I worked at my federally-funded job the rest of the week, if you're curious). In fact, I kind of worry that the protesting part is taking on a life of its own and trying to make itself the story, with Jesse Jackson dropping in yesterday (I guess he noticed all the cameras converging 3 hours from home and had to get involved), and the Tea Baggers trying to hold their little crumpet-fest today (they'll be mocked and outnumbered).

With that in mind, let's get back to the issues at hand:

1. There is no major fiscal crisis for the remainder of the January-June 30, 2011 fiscal year. Here's the now-famous LFB memo on the current-year situation. Now, there is some validity to holding back some of that $56 million additional money to take care of items such as Minnesota reciprocity and extra Medicaid payments ($121 M is the number thrown around, but Page 2 shows that $65 million is kept back as a "rainy day fund"). But that's a comparatively small amount that results in a tiny deficit that could be made up in a couple of other ways.

2. And here's the other ways you make up that deficit. Scotty and co. could have used the $103 million in concessions the state employees union agreed to and plugged most of the gap that way, and then used the increased pension and health contributions as a starting point for the 2011-2013 budget. But as you recall, Scotty tried to barge into the negotiations before taking office and bribed Sen. Jeff Plale with a cushy state job in exchange for voting the contracts down.

Another major source of savings is the huge amount of retirements that have been happening over the last 3 months in state service. Walk into any state agency office building, and you will see flyer after flyer discussing some long-time employee's upcoming retirement get-together. In my section of 12, 4 have left, and the only 2 filled positions have been internal fills. Any manager knows that attrition reduces the need for layoffs, and not filling positions lowers expenses in the short-term both in salaries and benefit costs. So when Walker threatens 5,000 or 1,600 or whatever-number-he-pulls-out-of-his-ass-today layoffs in the state, HE IS LYING.

3. So when you realize that there is no short-term fiscal crisis and you read the bill for more than 5 seconds, it becomes obvious that this is not a "budget repair bill", it is a union-busintg bill. Especially since Scotty and co want to usurp local governments and their agreements with their local unions by throwing out collective bargaining rights for all those employees in addition to the state ones. And that's where the mistake was made, because once you made it about the teachers, and the caregivers and the snow plow drivers, that's what took the protests from "small group of local Madison folks" to "this is a fight for everyone."

I'll speak more after I check out the rallies today. I'm debating whether to reprise my Honest Tea-Baggers outfit from Halloween, with signs like "Ignorance is Easier" and "Didn't need those benefits anyway." The best part is that those clowns probably won't understand the joke.

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