News Column

Gov. Walker's State Jobs Too Little, Too Late, Dems Say

Feb 21, 2013

Steven Verburg

Gov. Scott Walker is proposing to add 710 new state jobs two years after he all but stripped public workers of union rights, charged them more for health and pension benefits and watched the workforce shrink as record numbers retired.

But the proposal was immediately panned by fellow Republicans like Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who co-chairs the Legislature's powerful budget committee, who said the new workers would create added health and pension obligations.

Walker is proposing to add the new state worker positions and eliminate hundreds of others as part of his 2013-15 budget. The largest increase in workers would come in the departments of Health Services and Transportation.

"Our tough, but prudent decisions two years ago put us in a position to further reduce the tax burden of our citizens, while still investing in our priorities," Walker said.

His budget also includes language designed to address excessive rehiring of pension-drawing retirees to state jobs by mandating that anyone who returns to more than about 26 hours a week to stop collecting pension payments and requiring a longer period before someone is rehired after retirement.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he was skeptical of the need for more state workers but could be persuaded. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he didn't have any details on the idea.

Democrats said some of Walker's recommended staffing increases are ideas they've proposed for years because they will put the state on a stronger financial footing, but that others are ill-conceived and the whole proposal is too little and too late.

"This is really a pittance compared to what he's done in terms of forcing people to flee state employment," said state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison.

In 2011, Walker's first year in office, record numbers of public employees retired and the public sector work force shrank by 10 percent.

Budget documents released Wednesday peg state job vacancy rates at over 10 percent.

Taylor said she and other Democrats have been begging Republicans, who control state government, to add staff to the state tax collection agency because certain jobs more than pay for themselves and to hire state workers for jobs that contractors are doing at an inflated cost.

Walker is proposing just that. The state Department of Revenue estimated that adding 61 positions would yield $82.7 million in tax revenue and another $6 million in tax credits that would otherwise be granted improperly under the homestead and earned income programs over the two-year budget cycle that starts in July.

Walker wants to add 180 engineering and support positions to the state Department of Transportation to reduce the use of outside consultants by $5.6 million annually.

Walker also plans to add 150 workers to the King and Union Grove veterans homes, including direct care staff he previously announced and additional support staff.

The Department of Corrections would see new workers who would track increased numbers of sex offenders and others and create an office that would look for fraud and ensure that the state meets federal standards in preventing prison rapes.

And he is asking the Legislature for 280 positions at Department of Health Services for mental health services and Medicaid.

Taylor said the Medicaid jobs wouldn't have been needed if Walker had accepted an expanded plan under the new federal health care law. Walker said his health care proposal would actually insure more people.

The added jobs are the net of larger changes. Walker proposed adding 1,904 positions and eliminating 1,194. It wasn't immediately clear Wednesday where all of the proposed reductions in state jobs were proposed. A few would be at the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, where the absence of unions means less work for lawyers who handled contract disputes and grievances.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2013 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

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