Friday, February 18, 2011

Troopers Search for Senate Democrats, Assembly Adjourns Until Tuesday Out of Security Concerns -- MacIver News

MacIver News Service | February 18, 2011

[Madison, Wisconsin] With thousands of protesters occupying the Wisconsin State Capitol for the third consecutive day, the Wisconsin State Assembly adjourned late Friday.

The Assembly Republican leadership released a statement shortly after shutting down debate for the week.

"The leadership of the Assembly has decided to recess due to security concerns," the statement read. "We will reconvene on Tuesday morning and are confident that the security concerns will no longer exist. We are committed as ever to pass Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill and will do so next week."

GOP leaders in the State Assembly feared for the saftey of their staff but say they were not bowing to the pressure of the crowd, which had diminished from earlier in the day.

"Millions of taxpayers spoke in November and we will not let them down.," they said. "We have a fiscal crisis that can’t be ignored. We have the votes to pass the bill; it is only a matter of time."

The moves come after another curious day at the Capitol.

Senate Democrats fled to neighboring Illinois on Thursday. As session began on Friday, State Troopers were dispatched to the homes of two Dane County Democrat Senators.

However, neither Senators Mark Miller (D-Monona) nor Fred Risser (D-Madison) were home when law enforcement arrived to take them back to work.

The Senate is adjourned until the call of the chair, meaning they could meet at anytime.

The Assembly will be back in on Tuesday morning.

At the center of the debate is the Governor's Budget Adjustment Bill.

To fix the current budget gap of more than $130 million, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants to limit state employees' ability to collectively bargain, and hopes to require them to pitch in 12 percent of health care premiums and match the State's contribution to their pension plans.

Bill Osmulski reports from Madison in this story filed last week:

Average MPS Compensation Tops $100k - MacIver News

[Milwaukee, Wisconsin] MacIver News Service – For the first time in history, the average annual compensation for a teacher in the Milwaukee Public School system will exceed $100,000.

That staggering figure was revealed last night at a meeting of the MPS School Board.

The average salary for an MPS teacher is $56,500. When fringe benefits are factored in, the annual compensation will be $100,005 in 2011.

Study Shows, Even After Limits, Public Employee Benefits Would Be Extremely Generous

MacIver News Service | February 16, 2011

[Madison, Wisc..] Wisconsin taxpayers would be very generous to state employees even after the proposed budget repair bill passes this week, according to a just released study. The website HCTrends indicates if the proposed changes were to become law, public employees would still pay less toward their family health insurance premium than most other Midwestern states and the vast majority of large employers in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Currently, Wisconsin state employees pay less than 5 percent of the premium cost for family coverage (4.35 percent for union employees and 4.96 percent for non‐union employees). That’s lower than the 6.2 percent they paid in 2009, when Wisconsin’s employee contribution was the second‐lowest among Midwest states for family coverage.

Republican Governor Scott Walker has proposed raising the employee share of health insurance premiums to 12.4 percent, however even after the additional contribution, the contribution rate would still be less than the 2009 Midwest average for state government employees.

Moreover, the new rate would also be less than the employee contributions required at 85 percent of large Milwaukee‐area employers.

The proposed changes would cost the average state employee an additional $1,560 per year for family coverage, but the amount they would pay ($2,496) would still be significantly less than the $3,875 average premium contribution at large private‐sector employers in southeastern Wisconsin.

“State employees will also continue to get much more for their money than their private sector counterparts,” the study reads. “The state plan offers more benefits, lower deductibles, co-pays and out of pocket maximums than the average private sector plan.”

HCTrends reviewed data from the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the HCTrends Greater Milwaukee Health Care Benefits Survey.

The NCSL data was used to compare Wisconsin state employee benefits with eight other Midwestern states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio. The HCTrends employer survey data was used to compare Wisconsin state plan costs and design with private‐sector employers in southeastern Wisconsin.

The study can be found, here.

Union Tactics Hurt Younger Teachers -- MacIver Archives, June 2010

MacIver News Service – [Milwaukee, Wisc...] This week the Milwaukee Public School District sent layoff notices to 700 educators, including 500 teachers. However, less than 200 people turned out for a rally Monday protesting the cuts, and most of those in attendance were not the ones being laid off.

That’s not surprising since MPS has been discussing the layoffs for months, and teachers have ignored the budget discussions all year.

As we reported in April:

“We must control costs,” said MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos, “The benefit rate we project for next year is more than 74%. The District cannot sustain that. We are providing millions for benefits that we could be using to keep teaching staff and buy supplies.”

Excessive fringe benefit costs, which have driven the average teacher compensation in Milwaukee Public Schools to more than $100,000 a year, could lead to the elimination of 682 positions within the district next year.

The District has told the local teachers' union that they could have avoided layoffs if they were to agree to the lower-cost health benefits package that is now one of two options teachers currently have.

As the MPS Board deliberated the budget this spring, attendance at the public meetings was anemic.

The union has not accepted the more cost-effective health benefits plan, and earlier this month the MPS Board passed the budget which included the elimination of several positions.

The layoffs are done by seniority, which puts the youngest, newest teachers at the most risk of losing their jobs. These same teachers say their union did not keep them informed of the ongoing budget deliberations or the fact that their positions were at risk.

Several of the teachers we spoke with Monday questioned the union’s position and communication efforts.

MacIver’s Bill Osmulski reports from Milwaukee:

Wisconsin Governor to Dem Senators: Do your job. -- MacIver News

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker addressed the media Thursday afternoon regarding his budget adjustment bill and Democratic Senators who fled state to avoid voting on the measure Thursday.

Thousands Rally in Protest of Collective Bargaining Changes -- MacIver News

A collection of signs from the union protest rally at the Wisconsin Capitol on February 15, 2011.

Wisc. High School Teachers Bring Students to Protest -- MacIver News

Many of the hundreds of Madison East High School students didn't know why their teachers brought them to the union protests at the Wisconsin Capitol Tuesday.

But they knew they were just happy to be out of class.