$1k For City Workers is a Terrible Idea

In Madison no bad idea ever really dies.

Earlier this year Dane County Executive Joe Parisi proposed a one time $1,000 payment to every county employee to soften the blow of inflation. That proposal went down in flames before a very liberal County Board.

I like Parisi. I think he’s a good guy and good exec, but his proposal made little sense. For one thing, few of the people paying county taxes were getting that kind of largesse from their employers. For another, Parisi proposed to pay the $3 million cost out of COVID relief funds. If that was permissible under the federal rules, it shouldn’t have been. This kind of use certainly isn’t in keeping with the spirit of those programs.

Now Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is proposing the same thing — a one time $1,000 payment to every city employee. Her rationale and funding are different. She says that the money is in recognition of employees’ work during the pandemic and funding comes from an unexpected to windfall in a life and disability insurance fund.

Let’s pull those things apart. I suppose some city employees did go above and beyond during the pandemic, but most had a chance to work from home and many jobs in city government were unaffected by the pandemic. In some cases, there was less work to do. Madison Metro, for example, had severely limited service for a year or so. I’m not sure what all those drivers were doing during that time.

And, as for the insurance fund, the company is freezing rates for at least the next two years. So, the contributions made by both employees and the city will be frozen during that period. That’s where the payback is. If the Mayor gives employees $3 million out of that fund she’s essentially spending the savings twice.

Finally, it’s usually a bad idea to make unilateral moves like this. Employee compensation packages should be a matter of negotiation between management and workers. That remains possible even in a post-Act 10 environment. This is bad policy and bad fiscal management, but also bad form.

Based on Parisi’s experience I’m not sure what the Mayor was thinking, but let’s hope the City Council is as skeptical of this idea as was the County Board.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “$1k For City Workers is a Terrible Idea

  1. Another practical message, Dave. I was honestly shocked with this proposal. Having lived thru the pandemic and the deep loss of room tax and, accordingly having to lay off 1/3 and furlough the balance of the Destination Madison team to be responsible, was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my professional life. It took one of our team members 2 years to land a new job. The fact that city employees continued to hold onto their jobs, benefits, etc., this “bonus” seems to fly in the face of sensitivity towards the businesses and people who suffered during the pandemic. I imagine there are pressing needs for this $3 mil. I hope the Mayor rethinks this proposal.

    Deb Archer


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