Who knew? Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is an accomplished astrophysicist. Must be so, because he's perfected NASA's long-used technique (applied again this week with its Juno robot probe) to "slingshot" spacecraft around Earth and other celestial bodies to give them far more speed toward their ultimate destinations. In the case of Walker, the right-wing Republican union-buster, it's not space probes that are being slingshotted, it's political appointees. http://www.jsonline.com/...
[Wisconsin] Department of Revenue chief economist John Koskinen was transferred through three different high-level jobs at the state Department of Administration and then back to his original post, picking up bumps in his pay as he ping-ponged among them. Along the way, the longtime state employee shed his status as a political appointee and strengthened his civil-service job protections.Now, it's true that Wisconsin's previous governor, Democrat Jim Doyle, used the same technique a few times. But as the latest reports show, Walker and his administration have fine-tuned and expanded the practice. Beyond that, Walker got Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature to give him far more power than past governors to appoint more state department managers rather than hire them through the normal channels as civil servants. And now, Walker slingshots them around his solar system of state government so his political appointees not only gain salary momentum but also achieve stable orbits in civil servitude, so they're better protected from burning upon re-entry when some future governor fires the retro rockets.
Meanwhile, Walker wasn't content to whack the pay and benefits of many unionized state employees. He also implemented a "merit" compensation plan to reward higher achieving workers. Hmmm, maybe that would make up for all those lost wages. Nope. The "merit" standards were arcane and not very performance-based. In fact, one analyst regarded the system as mostly relying on favoritism: Maybe your boss just liked you, or liked your politics. Some improvement over collective bargaining! As an Associated Press story pointed out last April:
In the first round of pay raises since Wisconsin all but ended collective bargaining rights for state workers, supervisors issued average pay boosts of 6.52 percent -- but only about one of 14 eligible workers saw increases.Not only that, but more than a few managers received merit increases while many of the people they managed, who arguably do most of the work, got nothing. Well, Walker did make provisions in the current state budget for a one percent annual pay increase affecting most state workers. If he keeps that up for another 14 or 15 years (assuming he's still governor), some of those workers might get back to being paid what they were earning just a few years ago. If, that is, Walker hadn't already made all of those workers pay more into their pension plans, eating up that one percent and then some.
The pay increases were higher than those over the last decade, when union contracts mandated pay increases ranging from zero to 2 percent. But one union leader complained that managers show favoritism under the new system, while experts said the state risks losing valuable employees who didn't see raises.
Ah, but then there are the bright spots, the one-percenters of state government. The best of all possible worlds is to be a Walker political appointee, say for example deputy secretary for the Department of Redundancy Department (yes, I'm making that up). The Walker-controlled Department of Administration can, with a few computer strokes, virtually move you through a series of lateral management transfers and finally back to your original job, whereupon ... voila! You have magically and almost overnight gained ten or fifteen thousand dollars a year on your base pay, for being absolutely the same worker with the same skill set, leap-frogging other employees who have been around longer.
And you don't have to show off special new skills to qualify; after all, you're being rewarded for perhaps nothing more than being a good and loyal soldier in the political battle to make your agency do exactly what the governor wants. Wisconsin is open for bidness!
Meanwhile, an increasing number of Wisconsin state Republican legislators are making the migration to cushy jobs in the government bureaucracy, thanks to Walker appointments. They always seem to come from legislative districts made safe for future Republicans by gerrymandering, and they always seem to wind up making twice or more in annual salary what they made as a legislator. Nor are they particularly well equipped to do the job to which they've been appointed.
The latest example: A prospective 88 percent raise for Scott Suder, the state Assembly's recently resigned majority leader, a Republican who temporarily won Walker's nod to join the state's public utility commission right after the lawmaker tried to engineer a half-million-dollar state grant in near perpetuity for a "sportsman" group that in reality was a political action committee mostly funded by the Koch brothers and run by Suder familiars. The noisy scandal arising from that move led to Suder turning down the state job offer to take a lobbying job instead. I guess that counts as progress. See http://www.jsonline.com/...
While you're politicizing government, be sure, if you're a Republican, to politicize the polling booths, too. Another Wisconsin GOP lawmaker introduced legislation this session ensuring that local election boards would transform from non-partisan into partisan operations, in what she called the solution to ensuring that the boards would operate ... in non-partisan fashion! Never mind that election clerks work very hard to keep partisan observers from interfering with voters as they come in to cast ballots. Now, election workers themselves can do whatever eyebrow-raising they deem appropriate.
State Senate Republicans voted yes to the measure, requiring that local election commissioners appoint equal numbers of Republican and Democratic inspectors for all functions at polling places. If Walker signs the bill into law, apolitical election workers apparently need not apply. At a recent public hearing on the measure, local government clerks said the measures would replace community poll workers with out of town partisans. Well, that's surely one way to get around the limits on campaigning near polling places. http://host.madison.com/...
But if you're a public employee and you have grievances about any of these matters, Walker says you should relax. The civil service system is still intact, according to him, and will continue to look after employees and their workplace issues. Except for one, not-so-small thing: Walker has effectively eliminated those civil service protections by gutting the agency-- the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC)-- that enforces Wisconsin's civil service law. Walker eliminated about two-thirds of the agency's staff positions at a time when the civil service caseload was, if anything, about to skyrocket. And the agency was slow in reacting to employee complaints before all this. Meanwhile, individual state agencies were publishing their own elaborate employee policy manuals, since unions could no longer negotiate workplace issues. The manuals, of course, were issued without employee input. What could possibly go wrong?
Of course, back-door, ethically challenged shenanigans like these are why, beginning in the early 20th Century, the civil service system evolved across our country in the first place. As more and more government executives, from the local on up through the state level grant themselves the power to by-pass civil service and make our government's day to day operations more political, you can expect to see more of the same. Until, that is, the public arises and demands an end to such corruption. No politician including Walker should be allowed to function like Boss Tweed.
What a country. What a state. What a system.