As I reported last night, Scott Walker's announcement of his plan to lay off up to 200 workers was questionable at best. It turns out it was much more malevolent than even I had imagined.
I was partially in error when I asserted that it was an old problem that Walker should have been able to have foreseen and dealt with responsibly. It turns out that it was an old problem, but one that was not revealed until Tuesday:
John Chianelli, administrator of the county's Behavioral Health Division, said he realized early this year that the state had changed the way it paid for Medicaid claims for children and patients 65 and older. At first, he thought the changes would balance out and result in no net financial cut.
But by August, he found that the state was paying far less for older patients' stays at the Mental Health Complex than anticipated. That led to the $3.6 million deficit projected for his division.
Chianelli said he didn't have a good handle on the deficit problem in his division until reviewing reimbursement claims from the state last month.
This means one of two things.
One is that Chianelli, who Walker appointed to this position is as inept at Walker, and failed to do even the basics in handling the situation. This is a plausible scenario, based on Chianelli's inability to handle the under staffing situation at the mental health complex. It is also plausible since Walker has a habit of hiring inept directors, like Ron Malone, the former Superintendent of the House of Correction.
The other is that Chianelli knew about it and reported it to Walker, but was told to keep quiet about it, and to lie to the County Board. This is also feasible, and has happened before, such as when Walker had Chianelli lie to the County Board about the cost of moving the mental health clinic to the old St. Michael's Hospital, which turned out to be actually more expensive than to build a whole new facility.
SIDENOTE: To add to the fun, Nardelli denies having told anyone not to speak to he Board. All I can say to that is, "Oh, really?"
But instead of taking responsibility for his management staff, Walker tries to disperse the blame on everyone but him and his staff.
First, he tried to blame AFSCME for not just giving up and capitulating to his feeble-minded furlough scheme. He said that if AFSCME had just agreed to give up their legal rights, the lay offs could have been avoided.
There are several problems with that:
- He and his staff had a chance to prove the need for the furloughs, but failed. In fact, it was found that there was a surplus at the time.
- If he had followed the rules, and had worked with the County Board, instead of against them, he could have had his furloughs and the union would not have been able to stop him.
- If he had sat down with the union at the beginning of 2009 and did good faith bargaining, he could have had a contract like the one that expired at the end of last year, and would have been able to save enough that he would have a surplus right now, even with Chianelli's incompetence.
And speaking of showboating, let's talk about these lay offs.
Walker is reporting that there is now a $3 million deficit that he wants to resolve before the end of the year. Now, keep in mind that there is no law that states that the county can't end up with a deficit. It would just have to make up for it in the next budget. But for the sake of this discussion we will go with his goal of eliminating the deficit.
Walker claims that laying off 180 workers will do the trick. The workers that his Department of Administration Services have identified include 100 people from the parks and public works departments. Apparently he no longer cares about have "gold medal winning" parks and doesn't expect it to snow before January 1, 2010. His lay offs also include workers from Disability Services and the Department of Aging, which are revenue generating programs.
Even though the notices went out earlier today, the lay offs won't officially happen until mid-November. That means that the lay offs, if they go through the end of the year, will only be for six weeks. That's not a lot of time to make up for that much money.
Now add to this the cost of the unemployment services. Private businesses and government bodies do not do lay offs the same way. Private businesses pay into the unemployment compensation fund a little at a time, so that if there is a big pay out, it won't be as devastating. Governmental bodies have to pay it all in one fell swoop. Some of the estimates I was given today state that the amount would be between $1 million and $1.5 million, cutting any savings by a third to a half.
Keep in mind as well that many of the positions are in revenue generating jobs, such as mine. When Walker wanted to do the furloughs earlier this year, it was shown that the lost revenue would cut any potential savings by almost half. Since the number of lost hours aren't as much as the proposal this summer, the amount lost is obviously not as big, but it will still be considerable. This will cut into the savings that much more.
Add to this the fact that I know that in at least two divisions, they are so short-staffed that they are hiring workers through a temp agency. Some of these temps are retired county workers. These people are collecting their pensions (which may have included the big drop backs and the sick time pay outs), lifetime free health insurance and are now collecting a large paycheck, without contributing to the health care coverage that they are enjoying. In other words, they are double dipping while active workers are being shown the door. Hiring these workers to fill the vacant slots really cut into the savings.
Given all of these extra and hidden costs, it would be surprising if there is actually any savings at all from this political grandstanding.
The only ray of sunshine in this whole stinking mess is that the County Board will be holding a special meeting Friday morning to discuss Walker's sacrifice of jobs and services to selfishly promote his gubernatorial campaign. I sincerely hope that they are able to find the solutions to resolve this.
And while the county is struggling with this sudden fiscal crisis, and people are getting laid off, just where is Scott Walker? One would think a responsible leader would be at hand, pouring over ways to find savings and stop at least some of the lay offs.
But no one with any credibility has ever accused Walker of being responsible or a leader. Instead, he is emulating his hero, George W. Bush. He spent the morning at a fundraiser breakfast in the Dells and then had a reported $200 per plate fundraiser dinner in the evening.
In summary, if Walker is to have any credibility in all of this, he needs to get his butt back to Milwaukee, fire John Chianelli, apologize to the workers and the taxpayers of Milwaukee County and start working with the Board to build a realistic budget and a responsible way to meet the deficit he helped create.
Excuse me if I don't hold my breath for any of that to happen.