Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
My campaign for the 60th State Assembly District has been an education. I've knocked on hundreds of doors, and to hear the excuses and propaganda spewed by hate-filled Democrats regarding the fiscal mess our state is in – even to the point of denying we are in fiscal trouble and calling it a ploy by Governor Walker – has motivated me like nothing else could. I can't wait to get to Madison and go toe to toe with selfish public employee unions.
Liberals truly live on another planet – one devoid of common sense, accurate facts, and reason. Last week's column in Ozaukee County's News Graphic by liberal columnist Tim Schilke is a perfect example. Schilke described Rep. Jim Ott's vote in favor of Scott Walker's Budget Repair Bill as shameful and claimed it "ignored the facts." The only shameful aspects of what has taken place in Madison over the last couple of weeks are the $7 million in damage to our beautiful State Capitol caused by the slobs and homeless vandals who camped out there, and the public display of unbridled greed on the part of public employees.
Schilke claims that Republicans are throwing around big numbers in an attempt to "confuse" voters. While it wouldn't take too big of a number to confuse most of the folks I've seen on national media screaming and ranting uncivilly at our Capitol, Schilke claims that the $300 million savings is so insignificant that "it is not worth the cost to Wisconsin's working families." What Schilke and the punks vandalizing our State Capitol don't realize is that it is working families who are paying the freight for public employee sector largesse and the lavish benefits and perks this special class of Wisconsin worker enjoys – to the detriment of everyone else.
The average per capita income in Wisconsin is $26,447. The average Wisconsin teacher's salary for 2010 – for nine months of work – is $49,093. The average Wisconsin teacher compensation (salary and fringe benefits) for 2010 is $74,844. The average Wisconsin state employee's compensation (salary and fringe benefits) is $76,500. The average Milwaukee Public School teacher (salary and benefits) was $100,005 for 2010. The average compensation (salary and benefits) of Wisconsin school district administrators, principals and other administrative staff is $107,551. The average compensation of a painter at MPS is $98,000 (and there are 17 on staff). Somehow, I don’t' think that "Wisconsin working families" are too concerned about cutting some of these folks salaries and benefits – especially considering the fact that they are paying for it.
To claim that the $330 million savings Wisconsin will realize – year after year - isn't large enough to merit the attack on "working families" is laughable, because it is this kind of fiscal fantasy that has gotten us into the fiscal disaster we are in. When a working family has to do with less, they cut out premium cable channels, take a less expensive vacation, and eat out less. Any one of those might seem insignificant, but they all add up.
Three weeks ago I received a call from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's chief of staff indicating that Gov. Christie wanted my feedback on a bill that had been passed unanimously by the New Jersey legislature, having to do with a field of insurance I have a good deal of expertise in. I advised him not to sign the bill because of the effect it would have on insurance premiums in his state. A year ago Chris Christie was sworn in as the new governor. He immediately faced a $10.7 billion deficit and catastrophic debt projections. State and local taxes were already high, so that if he raised them he'd send people racing out of the state. So Mr. Christie came up with a plan. He asked the state's powerful teachers union for two things: a one-year pay freeze—not a cut—and a modest 1.5% contribution to their benefit packages.
Instead of accepting these minor concessions, the teachers union went to war. They said, "Christie is trying to kill the unions," so they tried to kill him politically. They spent millions on ads trying to take him down. The story is the same in Wisconsin, where Jesse Jackson and Michael Moore rush in to bang the drum of political unrest and class warfare. Wisconsin has a $3.6 billion deficit for 2011 to 2013. Its current deficit for the 2010 to 2011 fiscal year (ending June 30) is $137 million. The Department of Corrections is facing a $22 million shortfall. We owe Minnesota a $58.7 million debt our previous governor welched on. Instead of putting the money to good use building roads and infrastructure, Governor Doyle squandered $2 billion in stimulus money to balance its 2009 to 2011 budget. This is hardly an imaginary financial crisis.
Wisconsin also owes some $200 million to the Patients' Compensation Fund after the raid on the fund by Doyle was declared illegal by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Justice Prosser wrote the opinion last summer in a 5 to 2 majority. Now he has been targeted as a political enemy. I am proud to be putting up my Gary Wickert for State Assembly signs along side those of the David Prosser for Supreme Court campaign. If we don't keep the conservative majority on the court, the liberals who don't understand what a fiscal crisis is will use the court to undo all that Walker has done. Therefore, it is important to vote for Justice Prosser – who I have had the pleasure of arguing cases in front of – for the sake of our state's financial solvency.
The ignorance on the part of the left is stunning. In his article, Schilke claims that trimming ridiculous taxpayer-paid benefits and pensions from public employees and teachers is going to "decimate the middle class." Sigh. Leftists claim that the current target – public employee unions – is a "Republican misdirection" which has created an "illusion" of a fiscal crisis. Reason hangs in the balance as leftists now claim that public employees already pay 100% of their pension contributions out of their own salary. They claim that the pension contribution doesn't show up on their paychecks as a 401(k) deduction, but it is paid by the state as a tradeoff for a 5% lower base pay. Now there is an exercise in financial sleight of hand. It's like going in to the store to buy the $500 snow blower which was marked up to $750 and then advertised on sale at a 33% markdown. The average state employee contributes zero toward his or her defined benefit pension – a retirement vehicle far safer than the roller coaster 401(k)'s we all lose sleep over.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal – of all places – recently, the showdown in Wisconsin over fringe benefits for public employees boils down to one number: 74.2. That's how many cents the public pays Milwaukee public-school teachers and other employees for retirement and health benefits for every dollar they receive in salary. The corresponding rate for employees of private firms is 24.3 cents. Governor Walker 's proposal would merely bring public employee benefits closer in line with those of workers in the private sector – workers who don't enjoy all of the civil service protections (which aren't going away) and don't get to celebrate all of the obtuse holidays celebrated by state employees.
Opponents of Scott Walker argue that pension plan enjoyed by public employees are the direct result of deferred compensation - money that employees would have been paid as cash salary but choose, instead, to have placed in the state operated pension fund where the money can be professionally invested (at a lower cost of management) for the future, the left makes one won. Common sense tells us that regardless whether it is salary or compensation, the lavish salaries of public employees are still paid for us the much-lower-paid private sector employee and a state which is broke.
The average Milwaukee public-school teacher salary is $56,500. However, when you add in benefits, the lavish package tops out at $100,005. Anybody with a lick of common sense would as how fringe benefits can be as much as an entire salary. But there hasn't been much common sense in Madison – until now. If you look carefully at the fiscal year budget for MPS, you'll find that although the Wisconsin state pension plan requires a 6.8% employer contribution and 6.2% employee contribution, the employer (the taxpayers) make the employee's contribution for him or her. Try getting that at your private sector job. What's more, under a 1982 collective bargaining agreement, MPS teachers get an additional pension which requires the district once gain to pay an additional 4.2% of the employees salary – for a total of 13%. Beam me up, Scott!
Other school employees belong to the city pension system which requires the taxpayer to once again pay the employees' 5.5% share. The district's contribution toward pensions and Social Security tops 22 cents per dollar of salary, compared with 13.4 cents in the private sector. Collective bargaining also resulted in the school district paying for 100% of the employee's health insurance and 50% of their dental. Try to find that deal in the real world. And the plans they use are Cadillac plans, owned by the teachers' unions, and extremely expensive. All totalled, the district contributes nearly 40% of wages for health insurance compared to roughly 10% in the private sector.
Part of the problem our governor is trying to address is that collective "bargaining" really isn't bargaining. Bargaining is when you go in to buy a $10,000 car and you negotiate the price down to $9,500. Bargaining in the fantasy world of public employment is the equivalent of paying $14,000 for the $10,000 car. This is because the process is rigged in Wisconsin. If the two sides can't agree, a state-appointed arbitrator decides, and by law, the arbitrator must "consider" other favorable deals brokered by other collective bargaining in the state. The bottom line is that everybody shares the best deal allowed by the weakest school board anywhere in the state. Not exactly a smart way to do business. But then again, public employment isn't treated as a business – which is precisely the problem.
Schilke's solution to the financial crisis created by liberals is, naturally, a liberal solution: tax the so-called "rich." What liberals want to do is take money from the top 50% of wage earners who pay 97% of the taxes - by force - and spend it on the 50% who pay no taxes. It sounds less noble when plainly stated, doesn't it. Donald Trump, who knows something about making money, said during an interview with John Stossel that, of course the rich will leave when hit with higher taxes. "I know these people," he told Stossel. "They're international people. Whether they live here or live in a place like Switzerland doesn't really matter to them." You haven't left, Stossel said. "I haven't left yet. ... Look, the rich people are going to leave. And other people are going to leave. You're going to end up with lots of people that don't produce. And then that's the spiral. That's the end."
Governor Walker was plain about what he was going to do when elected and he is plainly doing it. I know that comes as a surprise to many on the left who look at politics as a combination Hollywood production and popularity contest. It was the politicians which preceded Governor Walker who did not tell the truth about our financial crisis. It took a long time to get into the mess we are in, and it will take a long time to get out of it. But get out of it we will – one liberal, taxpayer-funded collectively-bargained program of greed at a time. Governor Walker's Budget Repair Bill will end the midnight billion dollar raids on the Transportation Fund and the $200 million theft from the Patients' Compensation Fund. The time for the shell games are over, and once the curtain is pulled back. Those holding the money bags will undoubtedly be arguing that any effort to take that bag away from them is the equivalent of harming "working families." It would be funny if it weren't so sad.