Little-discussed provisions in Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget repair bill would greatly increase the number of employees that Walker appointees could hire and fire, deepening his administration's influence within state agencies.
The proposals call for converting 37 top agency attorneys, communications officials and legislative liaisons from civil service positions to appointed positions. Currently, agency heads can appoint 70 such positions in departments controlled by the governor, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis of the bill.
David Vergeront, retired chief legal counsel for the Office of State Employment Relations, said the changes would give the Republican governor greater authority to hire, fire and move key employees to carry out his agenda.
"I see it from the standpoint that you want someone that's going to be working with you," Vergeront said.
Vergeront said the downside of appointed positions is that an agency can end up with "yes men" or less qualified employees. On the other hand, it can take months to advertise an opening, test and interview candidates for a civil service position, he said.
Walker's proposal also appears to open the door for further expansion of his administration's appointment authority. The governor has been criticized for a series of measures to consolidate his power, including veto authority over all new state rules.
The fiscal bureau said the budget bill would allow top Walker appointees to request that "any other managerial position" be converted from civil service to appointment. Messages left with the governor's office Monday and Wednesday were not returned.
Dennis Dresang, UW-Madison professor emeritus of political science and public affairs, said Walker's proposals make good management sense.
"An elected chief executive, such as a governor, should have the opportunity to assemble his or her own management team," Dresang said. "This provides for accountability, since the chief executive would not be able to excuse himself or herself from campaign pledges and policy direction by claiming that civil servants not of his or her own choosing are blocking action."
He added that top attorneys, spokespersons and legislative liaisons are "clearly positions where governors should have free reign to hire and fire."
Good idea. The collective bargaining rights loss and severe paycuts to the unionized state workers aren't enough damage, now he needs to fire 37 more people to put his own people in their jobs.
Oh. There's more.
A group of Republican state legislators wants to dissolve the state's four regional transit authorities, including the one in Dane County that was poised to ask voters to approve a sales tax that would pay for improved mass transit.
The lawmakers oppose the sales tax, and are unhappy with the makeup and powers of the authority boards, said Mike Mikalson, a spokesman for a main co-author of the bill, Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater.
"It's better to repeal the law than to try to fix it," Mikalson said. "Then we can let the locals come back when they have a real plan that is supported by the public."
The state created the authorities in 2009. Dane County's board has worked for months on its plan and is scheduled to vote Thursday on placing a referendum on the April 5 ballot.
Authority board member Steve Hiniker said the bill resembles other Republican initiatives, such as Gov. Scott Walker's fast-tracked plan to weaken public employee unions and his rejection of federal money for high speed rail.
"You've got these legislative leaders who want to do this before we can have a vote," Hiniker said.
The current proposal in Dane County calls for a ¼ cent sales tax to extend bus lines to suburbs and improve service.
Hiniker said improvements are crucial for Wisconsin to compete for jobs with states that have already modernized transit. As an example of problems, he pointed to Epic Systems of Verona, a major employer that operates its own buses for employees because the public system is inadequate, he said.
"It frankly makes Wisconsin look pretty backwater," Hiniker said.
County Executive Kathleen Falk said she was deeply disappointed "to see Republicans take the extreme approach of eliminating the law entirely instead of working with citizens to make changes."
Okay...are the Republicans unhappy about a proposed .25 cent tax increase to be put to voters to improve services? Are they upset that public transit even exists? Where the hell did this even come from?
Words cannot express how much I hate the Walker administration.