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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pension Scandal Redux

by capper

UPDATE: Walker speaks! Also there is talk of examining all buybacks, but everyone is still too busy with CYA to get anything done yet.

In this morning's MSJ, there was a report about the latest scandal to hit Milwaukee County. The basics of the story is that, since 1990, the pension board has been letting county workers buy back time from previous stints with the county. This practice has let hundreds of workers gain potentially substantial gains in their pension benefits, including the addition of the pension enhancer that rocked the county's budgets in 2004, and led to the recall of former County Executive Tom Ament and seven county board supervisors.

Even though it means at most, about $65 million out of a pension fund worth more than $1.6 billion, this has caused an uprising of outrage and understandably so. So far there is only a contingent of right wing bloggers that have posted on this, including Patrick at Badger Blogger, Reaganite at The Croc, and Steveegg at No Runny Eggs and others. I believe that this is only the beginning of the outrage, and that for the next several weeks and months this will be fodder for many bloggers as well as talk radio.

But there are some things that I question about this scandal. The article reports that this has the potential to cost the county millions, but this is based on speculation, including how long people who have gained by the buy backs will be collecting pensions, as well as how many will be able to keep these gains, as that there is a move to disallow some of the buy backs. The number of those disallowed could be ten. Ten out of hundreds. Why aren't the rest at least being examined?

Also, there is a reciprocal relationship between different counties and different levels of government regarding seniority and pensions. This could have some major impacts on a lot of the elected and appointed officials. Walker was elected to the state legislature in 1992. This would make him eligible for the life time free health insurance, which is by reports, as good, if not better, than the one he might be eligible for from the state. Sheriff Clarke was a cop with the city of Milwaukee since 1978, per his bio. This would put him in line for not only the health insurance, but the increased pension enhancement and backdrop. Walker's recent appointee, Tom Nardelli, could be in for the same benefits. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Another thing that I noticed is that Scott Walker wasn't mentioned in the article. The problems were noted 12 years ago to the county, well before Walker's time, but nothing was done. It was noticed again two years ago, during Walker's time, when the board took some action by putting an end to the buy backs general guidelines. The article also states that the Journal has been investigating this for the past six months. I cannot believe that Walker did not know about the Journal's investigation, or that he was unaware of the problem that the board took action on two years ago. Given Walker's past behaviors and comments about the pension scandal of 2001, I thought he would have something to say, but there was not one quote from him, yet.

Then it hit me. Walker is facing increasing resistance from the county board and from the public in general, after year after year of budget cuts and service cuts that have affected almost every county resident in some fashion. Now the county board has proposed a referendum to increase the sales tax by a penny, and even some people on the right are in favor of letting people have a chance to speak on this issue. To make it a trifecta, Walker will be running for re-election in the spring (even though he promised he wouldn't), and some of the names of potential opponents could give him some stiff competition. The buy back scandal could give him the same grass roots uprising that he had when he successfully won after Ament's pension scandal.

Walker, like many professional politicians, knows the value of timing. Walker skills at this was demonstrated in the last election, when he knew about, but withheld the information about the huge deficit the parks had that year. It only came to light after he was re-elected, and then he scapegoated Sue Baldwin who had reported the deficit to him months earlier. This leads to the question, "When did Walker find out about this, and why didn't he act on it sooner?"

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