The state giveth, and the state taketh away | WisCommunity

The state giveth, and the state taketh away

[img_assist|nid=55543|title=The real truth hurts|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=164|height=77]In all the uproar over public employee unions and Scott Walker's bomb throwing on the subject, one factoid has been employed over and over: Those cushy jobs that public employees have in Wisconsin include very generous pension benefits. Even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel jumped on the bandwagon and editorialized that making state employees and perhaps other public employees contribute more toward their pensions was a no brainer.

All wrong. Because a.) many public employees in Wisconsin already earn less than their direct private-sector counterparts, even including the value of benefits like pensions and health care coverage. And b.) in the case of state workers, your Wisconsin government made it that way, contributing part or all an employee's pension contribution share in exchange for smaller wages.

Now, thanks to Walker and the Repubs, the state is going to yank back on the contributions it made in lieu of actual wage increases. You can almost hear the chuckling from the East Wing of the Capitol: "Suckers! Bwhahahahaa! And the best part is, the employees are getting all the blame! Yes-s-s-s! Yahoo!"

One man who knows the truth put his memories down in print today at Madison's Capital Times. It won't change what just happened in the Legislature overnight, but it should be a cautionary tale for anyone who ever believes politicians and bureaucrats who make a promise one day in order to benefit themselves and then go back on that promise later in order to benefit themselves again.

Even more important, though, is the utter lack of historical perspective that newspapers like the Journal Sentinel have displayed in ignoring how things got the way they are, and what the real situation is, foolishly buying into the "fat cat employee" meme from the real fat cats -- Republicans and their well-heeled, special-interest enablers.

Here's Bob Schaefer, retired state engineer. Climb into his Wayback Machine as we return to the moment of truth. This is an excerpt, but you can read the whole thing and share it with others at the URL below."SEA" refers to the State Engineering Association, the bargaining unit in question. It is clear from Schaefer's column that the reason things are the way they are today is because politicians in the past wanted to look like they were being even tougher than they already were on wage concessions. The bold-facing below is my own: 1983, during bargaining in which I participated for a new contract, the state insisted on paying the employee share of pension contributions. At the time, that share amounted to 5 percent.

The state preferred this approach for two reasons: no actual pay increase for public employees, and the state was able to avoid paying the required Social Security and Medicare on the wages that were not given. A so-called win-win for the state.

Initially, SEA turned down the state out of concern that at some point in time this contribution might become a weapon used against our members. But if you have ever bargained a contract with the state, you realize that you do not really negotiate the amount of compensation, you only negotiate the distribution of the amount. So SEA insisted that the state’s novel retirement payment provision be included as hard language in the contract. That way, we thought, we could in the future protect our members against charges like those lately made by critics of public employees, their unions and the state pension system.

As a result of the state’s pension contribution, we SEA members did have a few more dollars in our pockets. We spent that additional money to keep up with the cost of living; in turn, the state benefited yet again by being able to collect taxes on that money for the goods that we purchased or the interest we earned.

But we lost something else: SEA-represented employees did not receive an actual raise in base pay that would have been compounded over the last 28 years to improve our overall retirement calculation.

And now, those and other state employees and many local public employees are being treated to a double whammy. Years of low or no wage increases, starting from a base that was made smaller in some cases by compensation redirected into pension funds, and now yet further cuts to both wages and benefits.

We who study history know who the bad guys really are in this whole sordid situation, and it isn't the public employees. Rather, it's guys like Scott Walker, who are trying to look penny-wise even as they raise taxes on the least affluent and give away the store, the farm and the household -- worst of all, give all of it to the real fat cats.

Shame on those in government along with special interests and those in the news media who enabled this reverse Robin Hood theft of wealth.


June 15, 2011 - 2:47pm