Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Most Precious Of All

Tom Barrett is walking a precarious line by talking about expanding Act 10. Barrett believes that by reining in the police and firefighters unions he could eventually aid both departments and make the city safer at the same time. A noble, yet circuitous and confrontational proposition.

The police and firefighters are holding to the rationalization that they are The Public Safety and thus completely different from and above other public employees.

James Palmer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, bellows, "The mayor should understand that his public appeal for an expansion of Act 10 to police officers and firefighters ignores the reality that public safety employees are already paying toward their health insurance and their pensions in largely the same manner as general municipal employees. Since the 2011-2013 state budget was enacted, public safety employees can no longer negotiate over their health insurance benefits and costs. In addition, the vast majority of public safety contracts require police and fire employees to pay their share for pensions."

Other public employees also pay toward their health insurance and retirement, and they also can't negotiate their health insurance benefits or costs. And, these other public employees haven't seen the 3 and 4 percent raises the police and firefighters have seen over the last six or seven years.

Palmer goes on to decry, "Any assertion that expanding Act 10 will free up funding that could be used to hire more employees is without any reasonable basis."

If Act 10 can't free up funding, why was it a good idea when it was used to bludgeon the other public employees? Wasn't the initial point of Act 10 about saving money and saving budgets? Is Mr. Palmer admitting the Act 10 emperor has no clothes? Or is he just willing to throw other union members under the bus as long as police and fire members are exempted?

The police and fire protection departments are responsible for roughly 50 - 75 percent of most city budgets. These two departments are where most taxpayer dollars go. If there is anywhere to find efficiencies, these would seem to be the departments. In Milwaukee, police and fire account for nearly 59 percent of the budget. And, as we can also see, their budgets have increased almost 16 percent over the last decade.

Share of budget for general city services:

                                            2003            2013
Fire Dept.                            16.1%          17.9%
Police Dept.                         34.6%         40.6%
Protective Services total      50.7%         58.8%

Palmer persists, "It's important to recognize that public safety employees are unique, both in the challenges that they face and in the critical role that they play in our communities." Sure, but teachers, mental health care workers, social workers, engineers constructing our bridges, scientists providing our clean water supply, and a host of other public workers play a pretty critical role, too.

As James Rowen details, "The City of Milwaukee currently employs 6,865 employees. 4,168 are general city employees (including fire and police civilian staff). 2,697 are sworn fire and police employees...their average annual salaries. $41,361 for general city employees. $65,649 for sworn police employees. $67,554 for sworn fire employees." The average police officer or fight fighter makes over one and a half times as much as a general city employee.

Palmer's revisionist history continues, "He [Barrett] now appears to have abandoned the very principles that once drew WPPA's support, thus causing us to question whether that support was misplaced."

"...That once drew the WPPA's support"? Yeah, as I remember, the WPPA supported Scott Walker. Which is why they were preferentially carved out of Act 10. It seems the police and firefighter unions support whomever gives them preferential treatment. 59 percent of the entire Milwaukee budget already goes to these two departments, how much more do they want?

Maybe Barrett is on to something here. Maybe the police and firefighters should learn to live with the same rules as their other union brothers and sisters.

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