Lester Pines isn't at a loss for reasons to dislike a provision in Gov. Scott Walker's "budget repair bill" that calls for replacing civil servants in key state agency positions with political appointees.
"This is one of the biggest power grabs in the history of the state, and it will completely undermine the ability of the public to get the straight story from this administration, ever," says Pines, a prominent local lawyer.
The bill, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "would make existing civil service positions into 37 new political appointments, including 14 general counsels, 14 communications positions in state agencies and other positions, including legislative liaisons doing lobbying for agencies. That would allow Walker and agency secretaries to hire and fire employees in those positions at will."
In other words, the state's top agency lawyers and spokespeople will have no civil service protections. "The point of doing this," opines Pines, "is to make it easier for the governor to implement his policies rather than have employees who look out for the interests of the public."
But Pines, who has represented employees in actions against the state and the state against actions brought by employees, notes one little problem with Walker's scheme: It affects people who have civil service protections.
These are protections Walker himself has repeatedly stated are vastly superior to those afforded by collective bargaining. They include, under state statute 230.44(1)(c), a strong prohibition against "demotion, layoff, suspension, discharge or reduction in base pay," except for just cause.
In other words, the three dozen or so current workers being elbowed aside so Walker can appoint cronies must all be given new jobs at the same classification level and salary. Otherwise, says Pines, the state is "going to run afoul of the law" and expose itself to legal action.
It is possible the governor plans to keep the same people in these jobs while just changing the status of these positions. But if so, these individuals would retain their civil service protections, says Pines, meaning they could not be removed without being given a new position or for just cause.
If all 37 positions involve hiring new people, at $80,000 a year for salary and benefits - on the low side for top agency lawyers and spokespeople - that's $3 million a year in additional costs.
In other words, in the name of "repairing" the budget, Walker could be adding greatly to it.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie (annual salary: $60,767), as usual, did not respond to inquiries on this matter from Isthmus. Let's hope that's not an example of how Walker's other handpicked spokespeople will behave.
As a candidate, Scott Walker ran an ad touting his frugality in personal transportation: "I pack a brown bag lunch and drive my 1998 Saturn with over 100,000 miles to cut costs, and think government should do the same."
When Walker became governor-elect, Isthmus reported, the state leased him a brand-new 2011 Yukon XL, which he purportedly had no say about. But now, Isthmus has learned, the guv has procured rockin' new wheels, frugality be damned.
The state is buying the 2010 Chevy Suburban used by former Gov. Jim Doyle for $40,225, says Department of Administration spokeswoman Carla Vigue. This vehicle had been leased for $935 per month under a General Motors program that ended last month. Vigue says the "fair market" purchase price is less than the $50,939 it would have cost to buy a new one.
In addition, a 2011 Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, with just 1,300 miles on it, has been acquired for Walker's use in an interagency vehicle swap. (Doyle also used two cars, the second being a 2005 Buick Park Avenue.)
Records obtained by Isthmus show the state Department of Transportation provided this Crown Vic to DOA at the request of "the governor's detail." In exchange, the DOA gave the DOT a 2010 Ford Expedition, with 7,400 miles on it. The Expedition was said to have a higher "interagency sale price," $29,000 compared to $20,500, so DOA ended up with a newer vehicle plus $8,500.
That ought to buy a lot of brown bag lunches.
Running a tab
The city of Madison will seek reimbursement of at least $800,000 from the state for the costs of Capitol protests.
The only finalized item is $462,285 in police overtime for the first three weeks of protests, Feb. 14 to March 5. March 6-12 also saw major protests, including the granddaddy event of March 12, and there were some protests the following week. Figure at least another $150,000.
This does not include the MPD's straight time costs, for the smaller number of officers assigned to the Capitol who would have been working anyway. Mayoral aide Chris Klein says Police Chief Noble Wray "wasn't comfortable" including these costs, but they could yet be added.
The city will also seek reimbursement for the Madison Metro buses used to transport State Patrol and others from the Alliant Center, which Klein says "could be another $100,000." And it will bill for EMT services and use of the city's fire station command post, "probably close to $100,000."
No bills have yet been submitted, but Klein is confident the state, which Gov. Walker insists is "broke," will "reimburse us for some of our costs."
Richard Niess is in a bind similar to that of 1950s presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. He has the vote of every aware voter in the county but, to win, he needs a majority.
"I'm really not worried," says Niess, who's seeking reelection to a six-year term as Dane County judge against a candidate (Briane Pagel) who withdrew from the race too late to remove his name from the ballot. "Is he going to get votes? Yes. He could even get 30% to 40%."
In 2005, Niess got 71% of the vote against an actual challenger. But the April 5 election is expected to draw a flood of local voters for other contests, like Dane County exec, Madison mayor and state Supreme Court. And Niess admits "it's been awfully difficult getting any kind of visibility" for his race.
But even if "everybody who shows up to vote is completely uninformed," Niess reckons he'd still get half the vote. And any voters who have a clue will push things in his direction. Besides, he notes brightly, "I only need one more vote than the other guy."