Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is moving to privatize programs and slash public employee compensation in his 2010 county budget.
The moves are controversial. Walker’s package of pay cuts, pension contributions and health-insurance premium changes could reduce compensation by 16.4 percent, according to a county board analysis.
Unionized county workers have offered a two-year wage freeze to avoid layoffs. Walker pledged to veto that idea. He also has proposed slashing some 400 county jobs by privatizing some government activities. He said all this is necessary to avoid a county property tax hike.
Little wonder then that Walker is the clear front runner for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010.
His plans have grabbed newspaper headlines and television coverage in the Milwaukee market. That market includes Waukesha County, the largest GOP base in the state.
Walker made the news last year when he flirted with the idea of rejecting federal economic stimulus money.
This idea had a brief fling of popularity in southern states, but Walker quickly retreated from the concept in Wisconsin.
This year Walker’s county administration drew criticism for its role in monitoring state payments to child-care providers. Audits have suggested there was significant fraud in Milwaukee County in the program.
County government’s contract with the state this year was for “monitoring overpayment determination and recovery and fraud investigation,” according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The county wasn’t spending all the money available to it for that role, according to newspaper accounts. The controversy pits saving money against combating fraud.
More recently Walker has been critical of the Badger Care Plus program, a minimum health plan for adults who have no children under age 19. The plan is seen as a replacement to general assistance, the program that has helped many poor people.
Walker, obviously speaking as a gubernatorial candidate, said the program should spell out what recipients must do to get off the program.
Whatever the merits of the idea, Walker’s approach should make him a popular candidate in the GOP gubernatorial primary. He has called for slashing public employee salaries and privatizing some government functions.
His approach seems to guarantee that no other GOP gubernatorial candidate is going to the right of him on the political spectrum next year.
Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.