The $400 Million Pension Problem
Infamous county pension plan's cost may hit $400 million, make many wealthy.
Some 16 years ago, the Milwaukee County Board quietly approved a huge hike in pension benefits benefiting non-union employees (in November 2000) and union employees (later in 2001), whose still increasing price tag for taxpayers may hit $400 million. The plan passed with no media scrutiny until MilwaukeeWorld.com editor Bruce Murphy wrote about it for that publication and later did a feature story on the pension plan for Milwaukee Magazine. (Murphy currently serves as Urban Milwaukee’s editor.)
Two key parts of the pension plan were a 25 percent bonus which allowed veteran employees to collect as much as 100 percent of their final average salary in a pension and a complicated lump sum “backdrop” provision that gives the longest servicing employees the biggest payout. In response to Murphy’s stories the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did a series of front-page stories that went for months, with the rest of media, TV and radio, piling on.
The resulting public outrage forced then-County Executive F. Thomas Ament, who would have gotten a $2 million backdrop payment, to forego his backdrop, fire a number of his cabinet members and eventually resign from office. Seven county supervisors were also recalled from office. Measured by the number of officials thrown out of office, it was the biggest political scandal in Milwaukee history.
By the end of 2016, 2,204 employees had collected $294.6 million in backdrops, county statistics show, and the county estimates that there are 1,179 employees still eligible for the backdrop (the benefit has long since been eliminated for newer employees) with about $100 million in payouts expected. The total bill may yet total $400 million.
To date nine employees have gotten backdrop payments of more than $1 million, seven of more than $900,000, seven got $700,000 to $850,000, 20 got payments of $600,000-$699,999 and 69 employees got $400,000 to $599,999. In addition they all got a generous monthly pension.
The updated list below begins with the highest paid county employees and moves down to the lowest paid. Also listed are employee job titles, monthly pension amounts and retirement dates.
Influential proponents of the plan were county board research staff head Tom Kuzma and Corporation Councel Robert Ott. Kuzma’s backdrop amount is listed at $290,407 while Ott’s is listed at $125,454. Also involved in the bill’s passage was Sheriff Lev Baldwin, who has a backdrop amount listed at $333,450. Baldwin was once accused of making political threats to board members to make sure some political officials were eligible for pension benefits.
- Murphy’s Law: Mr Pension Scandal Wants Your Vote - Bruce Murphy - Jul 22nd, 2020
- Murphy’s Law: Schmidt’s Pension An Issue for Deputies - Bruce Murphy - Aug 13th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: Schmidt Will Get $1 Million Pension - Bruce Murphy - Aug 2nd, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: Schmidt Pension At Issue In Sheriff Race? - Bruce Murphy - Aug 2nd, 2018
- The $400 Million Pension Problem - Mitchel Writt - Jun 6th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Will County Give Pension to State? - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 23rd, 2017
- Murphy’s Law: Who’s To Blame for Pension Mess? - Bruce Murphy - Mar 7th, 2017
- Murphy’s Law: County Pension Scandal Poster Boys - Bruce Murphy - Mar 3rd, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: Will County Pass Another Pension Giveaway? - Bruce Murphy - Feb 3rd, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Who’s To Blame For Yet Another Pension Giveaway? - Bruce Murphy - May 20th, 2014
Read more about Milwaukee County Pension Scandal here