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The reaction to Gov. Scott Walker’s state employee pay plan, which calls for no pay raises for state workers for the next two years, fell along party lines.
Republicans said it was a measure of continued tough economic times and tight budgets. Democrats and union leaders complained the pay freeze came on the heels of legislation passed by Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature that requires state workers to pay more for the health insurance and pensions.
Some left-wing bloggers found even more reason for outrage.
They said that while the average state worker was being hit again, others -- including Walker -- weren’t sharing the pain.
Of course, Walker is the guy who as Milwaukee County executive liked to tout the fact he was giving back some of his salary. And as governor likes to note he’s so frugal he brings a brown bag lunch to work. Nothing stirs up bloggers quite like the smell of hypocrisy in the morning.
The Cognitive Dissidence blog said this:
"It is noted that Walker is giving himself a $7,500 raise. Not only is he being overly generous to himself, but he is also lavishing the love on some of his top henchmen like Becky Kleefisch, J.B. Van Hollen and Mike Huebsch."
Another blog, Uppity Wisconsin, made a similar claim, saying Walker "clearly thinks the hard-working, ultra-efficient, super-effective guy who's Wisconsin governor (that would be him, as defined by him) deserves a significant pay raise -- a 5.4 percent raise."
There were more examples, as the claim was picked up by other bloggers. Some reporters even contacted the governor’s office to ask about the issue. Residents called the governor’s office to register their complaints. And we received numerous emails -- from both sides -- urging us to sort it out.
So did the governor’s compensation plan -- scheduled to take effect in January -- pad his own salary?
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the state’s largest employee’s union was to blame for spreading the misinformation. Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, issued a news release Oct. 28, 2011 that criticized Walker for taking a higher salary than his predecessor -- but that was after the blog posts and the initial outrage.
So we’ll focus on the bloggers’ pay raise claims.
The bloggers all cite this 184-page document which outlines Walker’s overall compensation plan for state workers. It includes a chart (page 67) showing the salaries for the state’s constitutional officers, such as state treasurer, secretary of state, attorney general and, of course, governor.
For each, an "incumbent’s salary" as of July 5, 2009, is shown, with a line through it and another line shows the new pay rate as of Jan. 1, 2012.
In the case of the governor, the salary of $137,092 is shown with a line through it. The salary to take effect next year is listed as $144,423.
A raise, right?
That’s how the bloggers interpreted the chart.
But that’s not how pay for elected officials is set. The state constitution bars elected officials from increasing their own pay. That’s why changes are set before elections and always take effect in the future, when the new officials are in place.
So, Walker’s pay was determined before Walker ever took office, according to state Legislative Reference Bureau.
Indeed, the higher salaries were proposed by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration and approved by state lawmakers back in 2008. Under that measure, Walker is already being paid $144,423 and that salary will remain in effect -- with no change -- during the four-year term. The other constitutional officers will also receive flat pay.
So what of the chart that the bloggers referenced?
"We’ve been getting a lot of confusion on this," said Tim Lundquist, a communications officer for the state Department of Administration, who pointed to the Office of State Employment Relations.
"The OSER people say this is the way it has to be drafted,’" Lundquist said.
Greg Gracz, head of the employment relations office, tried to clarify matters with a memo Oct. 27 that said: "No increases for rates for office for constitutional officers are proposed."
But his attempt with a chart to clear up the matter is equally misleading -- and incorrect.
That new chart shows the governor’s pay under a column titled "effective July 5, 2009" as $144,423. It shows the same pay under another column, effective Jan. 1, 2012. That suggests to the average reader (or blogger) that Gov. Jim Doyle was paid that amount. He wasn’t. The pay raise took effect when Walker took office.
Bloggers dug into the pay plan proposed by Walker and found what sure looked like the ultimate hypocrisy: the governor giving himself a raise while freezing state workers pay for two years.
The document they cited makes it look like there’s a raise coming, but there is not. Elected officials cannot increase their own pay. A quick look at the Blue Book or a phone call to the Legislative Reference Bureau would have told them that. So there’s no pay raise for Walker, or the lieutenant governor, state treasurer, secretary of state, and attorney general.
Although the confusion is understandable because of a sloppy and confusing state compensation document (and an equally poor followup memo), it muddles things for residents.
Here’s the clearest answer possible: The claim is False.
Uppity Wisconsin blog post, "Tightwad Scotty takes a pay increase for himself, other elected officials,"Oct. 25, 2011
Cognitive Dissidence blog post, "Walker’s play with pay: nothing new under the sun," Oct. 26, 2011
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Plan would freeze state workers’ wages for two years,"Oct. 25, 2011
WISC-TV "Governor’s pay plan does not raise his salary," Oct. 27, 2011
Telephone interview, Tim Lundquist, spokesman, Wisconsin Department of Administration, Oct. 27, 2011
Memo, Greg Gracz, director of Office of State Employment Relations, Oct. 27, 2011
Press release, Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, Oct. 28, 2011
Emails, Cullen Werwie, spokesman, Gov. Scott Walker, Oct. 26, 27, 2011
Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau salaries report
Wisconsin Blue Book
Legislative Reference Bureau, "Salaries of elected officials effective January 2011."
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