Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

How Mayor Norquist’s Salary Cut Lowers Property Taxes

By - Oct 19th, 2001 01:07 pm
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John Norquist styles himself as a budget cutter, but few are aware of how personally he has taken that mission. For years, with very little attention from the media, he has asked the Common Council to restrict his salary and pension benefit increases.

Between 1990 and 2003, the mayor’s salary will have grown by 55 percent, compared to 75 percent for aldermen. Back in 1990, the mayor’s salary was $85,178 and was about twice as big as the Common Council President’s salary of $42,336. By 2003, the mayor’s annual paycheck will grow to $132,130, compared to the Council President’s $74,217.

“That’s something he’s always been sensitive to,” says the mayor’s policy director, Steve Jacquart. “He’s often pointed out that the average family of four in Milwaukee earns much less than a city manager or city department head.”

Norquist has set an example for budget cutting that the Common Council has followed. Thus, while the average city employee’s salary will rise by 56 percent between 1995 and 2003, council members will see their paycheck rise by just 45 percent. Meanwhile, Norquist’s salary will rise by just 30 percent. (For full details of city salaries requested under the state Open Records law, see chart below.)

City Salary Information 1991-2003

1991 1992 – 93 1994 – 95 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Mayor 85,177 97,661 101,731 108,978 112,362 115,851 119,449 120,548 124,291 128,151 132,130
Council President 42,336 48,155 50,563 57,575 59,363 61,206 63,106 67,704 69,806 71,974 74,217
Alderman 37,800 42,996 45,146 50,946 52,528 54,159 55,841 59,909 61,770 63,688 65,665

“You hear complaints from aldermen, that they earn less than the people they supervise, that there are 100 city managers who make more than they do,” Jacquart notes.

Of course, elected officials get a better deal on their pension. For years, they earned 2.6 percent of their salary for each year worked, in computing their pension, as compared to two percent per year for regular city employees. But in another show of economy, the council lowered the percentage for elected officials to just 2.5 percent for each year after 1995. Once again, the mayor went much further, voluntarily decreasing his pension earnings to just two percent per year after 1995.

The ripple effect of Norquist’s economy affects many other city employees because of a law that declares that no city employee may make more than the mayor. “The obvious impact is that some highly compensated administrators are receiving less then they would,” says Jeff Hansen, Director of Employee Relations.

Hansen should know, for he is one of the people whose biweekly paycheck is capped at one cent less than the mayor’s. Also earning 26 cents less per year than the mayor are City Attorney Grant Langley, Police Chief Art Jones, the deputy city attorney, special deputy city attorney, director of administration, commissioner of health, commissioner of public works and commissioner of the department of city development.

Are Langley and others miffed about the situation? “It’s no big deal,” says Hansen. “I haven’t had anyone call and complain about it.”

For Norquist, the sensitivity to salaries is a natural outgrowth of his obsession with budget cutting. “Salaries really drive our budget here,” says Jacquart. “As they go up it puts enormous pressure on your ability to keep the budget down.”

But doesn’t clamping down on administrative salaries make the city vulnerable to raids on their talent by the private sector? Hansen says that’s never really been a problem, other than for information technology employees, who are not at upper pay scales.

Norquist’s driving down of upper echelon salaries may be one last echo of the more radical, Socialist-like mentality he had as a young legislator. It certainly stands in stark contrast to the mentality at Milwaukee County, where old-time elected officials, led by County Executive F. Thomas Ament, are gorging on big pension benefits. But then, it would be hard to find any government where those kind of benefits are being offered.

Short Takes

Besides the 16 elected officials who were given the 25 percent increase in their pension benefits (along with the “backdrop” option that offers even sweeter benefits), there are 1,394 county workers hired before 1982 who can also claim this benefit. The other 6,164 employees were simply offered a deal increasing their pension benefit from 1.5 percent of salary for each year worked to two percent per year.

Old Friends: The one group Tom Barrett does really well with is old women, say his handlers. He’s their favorite son, apparently. Barrett’s people have also been trying to combat the point Bill Christofferson makes, that a Milwaukee Congressman has never won the governor’s race and a Milwaukee Democrat hasn’t won since almost forever. Well, it seems that eight of nine Democratic attorney generals in America who ran for governor since 1990 have lost. Does this show that Christofferson’s candidate, Attorney General Jim Doyle, will lose, or does it stretch statistics to the point of utter uselessness?

Democratic Revenge: Doyle objected strenuously when former governor Tommy Thompson removed the division of consumer protection and put it into the Agriculture Department. Fellow Democrat Kathleen Falk, who served as state public intervener, watch dogging the environment, saw that office eliminated under Thompson. Well, they haven’t forgotten. Doyle says the “first thing” he’d do as governor is put consumer protection back under the attorney general. And Falk says her “first act” would be to restore the office of public intervener.

Wistaxsin: If you ever doubted Wisconsin has high property taxes, you might consider a listing of states with lotteries in LA Fleur’s 2001 World Lottery Almanac. It shows this is the only state that earmarks its profits strictly to property tax relief. Most other states earmark it to education or the general fund, but in this state, there’s no doubt where citizens think the money is really needed. (South Dakota does earmark lottery money to property tax reduction, but also funds two other things with the money as well.)

The same source ranks Wisconsin ahead of 19 states and the District of Columbia in state revenue earned from the lottery, with $1.6 million earned in 2000. But we’re way behind nearby states like Illinois ($10.1 million) or Michigan ($9.8 million).

Finally, Wisconsin is the only state prohibiting promotional advertising, though Virginia comes close, with a provision that no funds shall be expended for the primary purpose of “inducing persons to participate in the lottery.” You have noticed that Wisconsin doesn’t promote its lottery, haven’t you? Those are just educational ads you see on TV.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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