Let’s say you’re a public official with $3 million burning a hole in your pocket. Pick the option that aligns with your values.
- Get it out to local small businesses contending with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 shutdown.
- Increase efforts to attack the homeless problem, which was made worse by COVID.
- Bolster food pantries, which have been stung by inflation.
- Give every public employee under your jurisdiction $1,000.
Who’s for #4? Not many of us I would suspect, but that’s Dane County Executive Joe Parisi’s head-scratching choice. The Dane County board still needs to sign off on the idea. Now, I like Parisi. He’s a good guy doing a good job. He’s generally popular, but not flashy, and he’s probably got that job for as long as he wants it, which is just fine by me.
But his proposal to give each of Dane County’s 2,500 employees a one-time $1,000 payment to, as he explains it, offset the cost of inflation is wrong on every level.
First, as demonstrated above, it would almost certainly be a low priority for the average Dane County taxpayer given the other needs in our community.
Second, what kind of message does that send to those taxpayers, who have had to cope with inflation, which is running hotter than wage increases, without getting $1,000 out of the blue from their employer?
Third, this is no way to handle employee relations. Compensation packages should be a subject of negotiation between management and labor, to the greatest extent possible, still, even in light of Act 10. Unilateral moves like this, outside of the broader context of the county budget, are a terrible idea. Also, if I were a county employee I’d want that $1,000 built into my base wages instead of a one-time payment.
Fourth, it underscores just how wrong-headed the $1.9 trillion federal COVID relief package was. In early 2021, the Democrats insisted on that number as if it was the holy grail. Never mind warnings that a package that big was unnecessary for an already fast-recovering economy and that it would trigger inflation. Now, local and state governments are swimming in money that they, apparently, don’t know what to do with.
Fifth, about that inflation, Dane County Supervisor Sarah Smith, who is cosponsoring this measure with Parisi, said she supported it because it would stimulate the local economy. The last thing we need right now is more economic stimulus. Inflation is running at its highest level in 40 years. The Fed is raising interest rates in an effort to cool it.
Sixth, it will put pressure on Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and the Madison city council to follow suit, just compounding it all. It will also put pressure on Gov. Tony Evers, but he is very unlikely to offer the same deal to state workers, leading to morale issues among state employees.
As a political matter this won’t hurt Parisi much, if at all. After all, this is a company town filled with public employees and their families. But it’s awful public policy and, statewide, it’s terrible politics. It reinforces the toxic image of liberals and Democrats for just wanting to give stuff away.
Just for the record, if it were up to me, I’d pick option #3 from above. To quote a recent Associated Press story: “Feeding America, which represents 200 food banks, reports that demand for food has increased just as these organizations are seeing individual donations dwindle and food costs rise. The organization estimates the nation’s food banks will spend 40 percent more to buy food in the fiscal year ending June 2022 as in the previous year.”
There are a lot of new supervisors just getting settled in. And, among progressives, the argument that there are much better uses for $3 million, like feeding people, might just be persuasive. Let’s hope so.
Postscript: Parisi’s office contacted me to point out that he is directing $3.75 million of the COVID relief money to Second Harvest. That’s all to the good, but there are still a lot of priorities ahead of payments to county employees.
This post originally appeared in Isthmus.
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