Originally Exempt From State Cuts, Wisconsin Police And Firefighters Now Face Changes Too


This is the second in a two-part series about what’s changed for public workers in Wisconsin, one year after labor protests gripped the state (part one is here).

Brian Austin is a Madison police detective. When he's not working, he's been active in protests against Gov. Scott Walker (Niala Boodhoo)

The Capitol building in Madison is amazing – anyone can just walk in. And in Madison, people often do just visit, like Brian Austin, who often brings his children here.

Austin is a detective with the City of Madison’s police department. He was also one of the tens of thousands who packed this building in protest when Gov. Walker proposed limiting union rights for public workers. The law – Act 10 – passed anyway. So Austin says when he goes into the building now, he can’t help think of it as a “completely different” building – and he means that in both a positive and a negative way.

His ambivalence is because he says Walker has brought the Wisconsin workers together – even though they’re suffering now.

The Wisconsin state worker’s union estimates that some 22,000 public employees are taking home 13 percent less pay since the law has taken effect. As it was written, public safety workers like police officers were supposed to be exempt.

But now, police and firefighters are finding, they, too, are facing increased pension and health care costs.

Continue reading “Originally Exempt From State Cuts, Wisconsin Police And Firefighters Now Face Changes Too”

Midwest Memo: Michigan Foreclosure Rate Spikes, Groupon Regains IPO Momentum

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Foreclosures spike in Michigan. Foreclosure filings in Michigan had slowed during the first half of 2011, but jumped 36 percent from July to August, according to new data. Daren Bloomquist of RealtyTrac tells our partner station Michigan Radio that banks had noticed a decline in the number of repossessed hopes they were trying to sell, and therefore “more willing to push properties into the foreclosure.”

2. Public vs. private workers. A study that compares the compensation of public and private workers in Ohio says that the total compensation for public employees is worth 43 percent more than their private-worker counterparts. Amid the backdrop of controversial collective bargaining legislation known as SB5, the compensation study has become controversial itself says our partner Ideastream. Amy Hanauer, spokesperson for a left-leaning think tank, says the study is “preposterous” and cites a Rutgers University study that determined the total compensation is “pretty much a wash.”

3. Groupon IPO regains momentum. Groupon will seek to hold its initial public offering in October or November, sources told The New York Times on Wednesday. One week after the daily-deals website postponed the IPO to wait out market volatility, the company’s renewed interest comes as part of “a resolution between the company” and SEC regarding CEO Andrew Mason’s critical memo that was leaked last month about the company’s health.

Midwest Memo: Michigan Lawmakers Approve Health Benefit Limits, Federal Court Won’t Intervene in Asian Carp Case

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan approves health-care changes. The Michigan state Legislature approved a proposal Wednesday that requires local municipalities, school districts and counties to pay no more than 80 percent of their employees’ health-care costs or limit payments to no more than $15,000 per family. The vote was 25-13 in favor, largely along party lines. Proponents of the legislation say it gives local governments the means to trim benefit spending. Critics say the bill is an attack on middle-class families and public employees.

2. Courts won’t stop carp. On Wednesday, a federal appeals panel denied a request from five Great Lakes states to close shipping locks in the Chicago area. The states had asked for court intervention to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes, but the court panel ruled the invasive species did not appear to be an imminent threat, according to the Chicago Tribune. Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin had asked the courts to close locks at the Cal-Sag Channel and Chicago River.

3. JobsOhio announces partner. A jobs-creation group in Cincinnati has won a $4 million grant to help facilitate job growth at existing companies in the region. The Cincinnati USA Partnership announced Thursday a “grow your own” strategy that is supported by Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s JobsOhio plan, according to Cincinnati.com. Ohio’s unemployment rate inched upward to 9.0 percent in July, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Cincinnati USA Partnership is one of six organizations that will officially be supported by JobsOhio.

Midwest Memo: Milwaukee May Not Comply with Wisconsin Law; Measuring Cleveland’s Urban Garden Potential

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Milwaukee’s employee-benefit conundrum. Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett and the city’s Common Council are unsure whether the city is exempt from a new state law that requires public employees contribute more toward benefit costs. The city’s attorney says Milwaukee should not comply. The governor’s chief counsel says yes. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the disagreement centers around the state constitution’s home-rule provisions and terms of a decade-old legal settlement. Following the new law could save the city $8.2 million annually, but risks a lawsuit.

2. Chicago schools’ financial trouble. An 82-page analysis of Chicago Public Schools’ 2012 budget says that a “fiscal calamity” lies in the district’s near future if cuts are not implemented, according to the Civic Federation, which released the report Monday. The organization endorsed decisions like denying teachers a 4 percent cost-of-living increase and raising property taxes, according to our partner station WBEZ. The Federation said those decisions will look small if other remedies are not implemented to the $5.9 billion annual budget by 2014.

3. Urban garden potential. Two Ohio State researchers say as much as $115 million in produce could be grown on vacant land in Cleveland, enough to meet 22 to 100 percent of the city’s fresh food demands. “We were definitely shocked it was really possible to be self-reliant,” Parwinder S. Grewal, co-author of the study, told the Columbus Dispatch. Cleveland holds 5.3 square miles of vacant lots, and the city has recently loosened regulations to make urban gardening more palatable.

Midwest Memo: Obama Plans Jobs Speech, Ohio Trims State Employee Ranks, Great Lakes Projects Receive Funding

Three stories making news around the Midwest today:

1. Obama revising economic plan. Seeking a boost for a flagging economy, President Obama will “give a major speech in early September to unveil new ideas for speeding up job growth,” according to a report Wednesday from the Associated Press. The plan will likely contain tax cuts, infrastructure ideas and steps to help the unemployed, according to the report, and will go beyond the “infrastructure bank” idea the President has pitched in recent weeks that would finance construction jobs.

2. Ohio loses public employees. The number of Ohio state employees dropped by more than 1,000 in the first half of Gov. John Kasich’s first year in office, according to our partner station Ideastream. The current count is just more than 57,000, although more trimming is expected because of spending cutbacks that took effect in July under the current fiscal budget.

3. EPA awards Great Lakes funds. Federal officials announced Wednesday a list of upcoming projects that will be funded under the ongoing Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. More than $700 million has been spent or committed under the initiative under President Obama, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “For the regional economy to thrive, we need to accelerate our efforts to comprehensively attack problems such as habitat loss, invasive species and pollution,” said Cameron Davis, the EPA’s spokesperson for the program.


Democrats Hang On To Wisconsin Senate Seats, Ending Recall Drama

The turmoil that enveloped Wisconsin politics since spring is over, at least for now.

Protests roiled the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison this winter.

Two Democratic state senators hung on to their seats in yesterday’s recall elections, leaving Republicans in control of state government. The senators, Jim Holperin of Conover, and Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie, defeated Republican challengers.

The votes were last involving six state senate seats over the past two weeks. The recall elections came in the wake of Wisconsin’s controversial new law, pushed by its Republican Gov., Scott Walker, that strictly limits collective bargaining rights for state employees. Continue reading “Democrats Hang On To Wisconsin Senate Seats, Ending Recall Drama”

Republicans Still in Charge After Wisconsin Recall Elections

Republicans kept four state Senate seats, and retained control of state government, in hotly contested recall elections in Wisconsin yesterday.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Jeremy M. Farmer.

The elections were triggered by the uproar over the state’s new collective bargaining law, which limits bargaining rights for state employees and requires them to pay more for benefits. Republicans hold a majority in the Senate and Assembly, while Wisconsin has a Republican governor, Scott Walker.

Now, attention moves to two Democratic state Senate seats, which will be the subject of recall elections next week. Continue reading “Republicans Still in Charge After Wisconsin Recall Elections”

Wisconsin Recall Elections Get Underway With Strong Turnout

Voters go to the polls in six Wisconsin state senate districts today. They’re considering whether to recall Republican lawmakers who supported Gov. Scott Walker’s bid to restrict state workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that turnout is strong, while Wisconsin Public Radio says state officials have seen a big demand for absentee ballots. Two Democratic senators face recall elections next week. Continue reading “Wisconsin Recall Elections Get Underway With Strong Turnout”

Wisconsin Public Employees Feel The Pinch of New Law

Wisconsin’s controversial collective bargaining law took effect today, and many public employees will feel the immediate pinch in their pay checks.

The law, officially Wisconsin Act 10, was published Tuesday by the state’s attorney general.

It limits collective bargaining on all but issues involving pay for most public workers, except for police and firefighters. It also requires employees to pay more for health care coverage and pensions. I talked about the new Wisconsin law with our friends at PBS Newshour. Continue reading “Wisconsin Public Employees Feel The Pinch of New Law”