If what follows doesn't make you mad, then what hope do we have for a return to sensible, transparent, caring, equitable government that truly serves all?
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pushed through his Act 10 law gutting collective bargaining for most public employees in the state, some of the most aggrieved workers were unionized state prison guards, who have seen few raises in recent years along with two years of compensation cuts under Walker. The guards must deal with an increasingly large and unruly prison population despite declining resources. That's produced one huge morale problem for corrections officers in the state's overly incarceration-minded justice system.
So how to fix that? Well, these passages in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story today pretty much sum up the Walker administration approach to "better" government:
Six prison wardens locked in pay raises of 8% to 13% this week — bringing their pay to just under $100,000 a year — at a time when most correctional officers and other state employees are getting 1% pay raises... .If the above wasn't bad enough, two other aspects make this injustice even worse. For one thing, the Walker administration engineered the fat pay increases to the wardens by, as it has done previously, using an administrative loophole that let the increases be much higher than normally allowed. The State Corrections Department simply transferred the wardens from duty at one prison to another. Under Walker, musical chairs is the game that produces unwarranted, double-digit pay increases.
"This is naked cronyism," Paul Mertz, a correctional officer at Redgranite Correctional Institution, wrote in an email to the Journal Sentinel. "We have one standard for all the unwashed masses and another standard for the beautiful people."
Just as awful, one of the highly rewarded wardens has a history of physically mistreating his staff and uttering racial epithets. This became known ten years ago when a staffer filed a whistleblower report. The warden was never disciplined, but the whistleblower was reprimanded and suspended for his actions. You can read the nasty details at the link to the Journal Sentinel story, above.
So, apparently, if you're a right-thinking Wisconsin state government manager, serious misconduct in public office may get you a big, fat raise and no punishment. It's more proof that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Join me below the little orange cloud of backroom cigar smoke for further thoughts.
Walker made a big deal a couple years ago out of his new (actually, just revived) "merit" compensation plan, which he claimed would reward those employees who excelled. Sift, however, through the merit awards filings (they are open public records) and you'll notice that an unusually large number of agency heads and managers seem to get a disproportionate amount of the merit increases, whereas the vast majority of rank-and-file workers get nothing and are stuck with a current one-percent pay increase that Walker and the state's other political overseers grudgingly granted to most newly un-unionized employees. Of course, the closer you are to the top of the state government food chain, the more likely it is you're a political animal who bows in the direction of the governor's office.
This certainly isn't always true; some worthy managers and ground-pounders have earned state merit increases; but we're talking about the overall norm.
Preoccupation with state government's embedded loyalists may be why rank-and-file state employees now increasingly discover that their annual performance reviews appear to be reverse-engineered to find fault, despite years of loyal, highly rated service. In a top-down culture, rewards go to the overseers, while blame falls upon the people actually doing most of the achieving. Embedded loyalists can gain favor by rooting out anyone who is perceived as trouble or who disagrees, however professionally they express themselves.
The State Department of Transportation went so far as to hand out "employee appreciation" awards to staff that consisted entirely of a piece of candy, specifically: suckers. Ham-handed or intentional, the negative metaphor couldn't have been overlooked. If they actually care about any of this, the state's brilliant overseers must be wondering why there are morale problems in the lower ranks. If so, the solution is obvious: The figurative beatings (and in some cases, as with that particular warden, real physical abuse) will continue until morale improves!
Seemingly, despite occasional soothsaying to the contrary, the implicit and sometimes explicit message from Walker and other overseers is that most workers are just no damn good; it's a few of the bosses at or near the top that do all the really important stuff. That's perhaps how Walker himself could collect $340,000 in advance royalties for his poorly selling political autobiography, even though he didn't actually write it. Hey, here's the next step: Dock the ghostwriter!
Thus once again, this time in the case of the prison wardens, the Walker brand of Republican policy-making bends toward giving bosses most of the benefits and rewards, even when they're of dubious achievement, character and integrity, while the people who do all the real work get crumbs at best, along with way too much criticism from some of those same bosses.
No wonder most citizens think government is screwed up. The public sector increasingly is run by government haters who are busy pillaging the treasury -- and the very tenets of democracy -- for fun and profit. And the government haters get into office thanks to huge donations from corporatists whose main agenda is to neuter government.
It's true Walker just handed out a $500 million state income tax rebate thanks to a budget surplus, but 1.) most of that surplus is despite his policies and reflects the nation's gradually reviving economy, one in which Wisconsin still badly lags most states; 2.) the rebate is skewed towards wealthier taxpayers; 3.) the surplus is just a projection, and doesn't take into account the record billions that Walker has borrowed mostly to pump up spending on highway construction, a sop to a very friendly and powerful interest group; and 4.) Walker's budget depended on grabbing back hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to state employees, including those prison guards, as well as massive cuts in state aid to public school districts and municipalities. Will any of the "Walker surplus" now touted in re-election campaign ads be redirected back to those aggrieved programs? Nah, not really.
Cronyism and authoritarianism are the norms in Walkerism's approach to both the private and public sectors. In this twisted way of thinking, corporations and business executives should get more of the rewards, because, hey, they're in control. Hence, tax breaks that are skewed toward wealthy individuals and the business community. But even when this approach fails, as it continues to fail under Walker in Wisconsin, the overseers don't back off. Rather, they and their fellow overseers deserve even more, simply because of who they are and what they believe; a non-meritocracy, in other words.
Whereas, the millions of public and private employees who actually get done the vast proportion of work are constantly faced with wage and benefit cuts, wage theft, lay-offs and dismissals. "We made this" has been embraced as a slogan by the people at the top who only imagine they did all the work. Give rich America a raise!
Last week, Citizens For Tax Justice and the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy reported that Fortune 500 companies avoided a collective $73.1 billion in state government taxes nationwide, thanks to loopholes and clever accounting. In Wisconsin, like other states, profitable corporations on average reduced their state corporate tax payments by half. One big Wisconsin company, Rockwell Automation, actually paid a negative income tax and collected $16 million from state taxpayers. The firms in Wisconsin took advantage of weak regulation to move assets to Nevada, a state where corporations pay nothing. And so the race to the bottom continues.
Then it's on to privatizing more profits while socializing more costs. And narrowing the rewards to a select few, because they'll trickle it back down to the rest of the nation. Piss-poor reasoning, but there you are.