Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why Unions Don’t Like Scott Walker

By - Apr 12th, 2002 11:24 am

Given that Jim Ryan has not closed the door completely on privatizing some government functions, you might wonder why he was endorsed by labor for county executive. It’s clear this was more of a vote against Ryan’s opponent Scott Walker than a vote for Ryan.

Walker’s record in the legislature has been that of a classic Republican conservative. He voted against raising the minimum wage twice, in 1993-94 and 1999-00. He voted against the position of state public intervener, which was the independent watchdog and advocate for environmental concerns. He voted against an amendment that would have given workers’ wages priority over the claims of banks in bankruptcy proceedings. And my favorite, Walker supported legislation removing the 18% limit on credit card interest rates.

On the one hand, Walker concedes these are the kinds of votes you’d expect from someone with his leanings. “From a conservative philosophical approach, it’s a matter of saying the government should be as uninvolved in the market as possible,” he says.

On the other hand, Walker does his best to pass off each vote. He thinks it’s better for the federal government to pass minimum wage increases than the states. He supported a later action on bankruptcy proceedings that allowed workers to get up to $2,000 in wages before banks and other companies got priority for their share. So maybe Walker is actually a secret liberal.

As for increase in credit card interest rates, this was done so companies didn’t move to other states that allowed higher interest rates, Walker says. And Walker opposed the state public intervener because he didn’t believe government should be paying someone to sue the government, including localities. That’s a very good answer for someone running for local government.

Walker also concedes he hasn’t been a consistently reliable supporter of state funding for Milwaukee County. Won’t that make harder for him to advocate for state funding to Milwaukee should he become county executive? “I think it gives me more credibility than someone with a liberal background, because legislators want accountability,” he answers.

Certainly, Walker has made a stronger case for accountability than Ryan. But I still wonder about the issue of competence. Imagine for a moment that you have a $1 billion business and an eager 34-year-old with no management experience and no college degree stops by and asks to run the company. Would any private company give such a person the time of day?

I don’t doubt Walker has the experience to be a legislator, but does he have the background to make the leap to running the state’s second biggest government? That seems a legitimate question, but the electorate may actually prefer Walker because he lacks the experience and age of a Tom Ament. Walker sounds more like the anti-Ament, and that may be all he needs to win.

The Big Winner

The Milwaukee County pension sweepstakes continues, and on April 19 the biggest backdrop yet will be awarded: $577,000 will go to James F. Boyle, an Inpatient Branch Administrator for the Mental Health Division. In addition to this cool half million, Boyle will get a monthly pension payment of $4,136, which adds up to $49,632 annually for life. Boyle will also collect a sick pay allowance of $177,946.

Boyle’s salary was in the neighborhood of $70,000, so how could he collect such a huge pension? Through the magic of compounded interest. Boyle worked 38 years for Milwaukee County and was originally eligible for retirement in September 1993. Thus his backdrop could collect interest until this month, for a period of nearly nine years. The longer this span of years, the more you benefit from the marvelous monthly compounded interest.

As explained in previous articles, other governments that use a “drop” or “backdrop” plan typically have a limit of five or less years during which you can accumulate a drop payment. But former county administrator Gary Dobbert, the architect of Milwaukee’s plan, created a plan with absolutely no limit on the number of years for the backdrop. Which is very good news for Mr. Boyle.

Boyle’s payout beats the previous record of $437,000 set by Tom Mollan, a key aide to Tom Ament who worked closely with Dobbert and Ament to create the pension plan.

As of this month, the county has now paid out $16.7 million in backdrops to 191 people. As the sweepstakes continues, we’ll watch with interest to see if anyone can beat Jim Boyle’s record.

Short Take

Mikel Holt, editor of the Community Journal, and a commentator on Charlie Sykes‘ Sunday morning pundit show, argues that Tyrone Dumas was the best qualified candidate for county executive, and the electorate wasn’t willing to elect an African American. I would certainly agree Milwaukee has a ways to go in its tolerance for diversity. But its worth pointing out that Dumas did nearly as well as Tom Nardelli, who outspent Dumas by a factor of ten to one.

Of course, you could argue the power structure was not as willing to throw their dollars toward Dumas, while Jim Ryan gained lots of campaign donations. But Dumas clearly put his emphasis on grass roots support in black districts, while Ryan courted more of the elite.

I don’t think Dumas’s showing proves all racist thought is gone in Milwaukee, but I think he was seen as a viable candidate, as he should have been. And that, combined with Louis Butler‘s strong showing in the race for circuit court judge, bodes well for Milwaukee’s future.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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