Reality is a Tad Different Off the AFSCME Protest Bus
Manitowoc has become something of a poster-city for the Wisconsin Left recently for a number of reasons. The first is obvious, the labor dispute between Manitowoc Crane Co. and its union. Because the company wants to create an open shop where new employees get to choose if they join the union or not, the state AFL-CIO and AFSCME have turned the struggle into a proxy for the Walker Recall.
Because you know, allowing people a choice in who they associate with and pay money to is a crime against humanity or something.
Now that the city of Manitowoc finally has a 2012 budget finalized, the decisions made have been scooped up by everyone’s favorite AFSCME hack and DPW as a sign that the Walker Reform’s “aren’t working.”
Here’s the reality.
Manitowoc’s city budget has been, and will be a mess for quite a few years. Some fear the city may eventually someday end up in default since it holds something akin to $75 million in debt.
How much is the annual city budget? Oh, around $26 million dollars in operating cost. Something, is going to have to give for the countless bonding and other projects the city should have never agreed to in the 1990s and 2000s under the leadership of former Mayor Kevin Crawford.
Everyone’s focusing on the recent news, but no one in Manitowoc is surprised by the mess, since it’s always been there. Here’s what a November 30th Herald Times-Reporter article had on the actual fiscal situation of the city.
[My Cousin, County Executive, State Assemblyman, and former City of Manitowoc Financial Director from 1984–89 Bob] Ziegelbauer said the biggest problem confronting the city is its approximate $75 million debt, up from $10 million in 1990, according to data from Nickels.
“Yes, (the city’s) revenues and expenses are horribly out of balance but (city officials) are handcuffed because they are swamped in this deep pile of debt,” said Ziegelbauer, a member of the state Assembly since 1992.
He wondered how the city might repay any short-term loan.
“I don’t know how you can look at what is happening and not think they are on the path to default … they better get off it,” said Ziegelbauer, a Manitowoc native.
While acknowledging there are “no easy answers,” Ziegelbauer said additional job cuts, beyond the 31 proposed in Nickels’ original budget offered Oct. 17, must be considered.
Ziegelbauer estimated that, at least, 100 of the city’s approximately 350 employees cost $100,000 or more annually when factoring in pay, contributions to their retirement fund, health insurance and other benefit costs.
He said no department’s staffing level should be considered off-limits for possible reduction.
Ziegelbauer said the city’s taxes per capita is “pretty robust” and not the cause of the city’s fiscal predicament.
Manitowoc has a spending problem. It has for years, and you would think with the continual economic shocks it takes from time to time, those in charge of the city would have figured they can’t spend their way out of this mess anytime soon without damaging the city long-term.
Even the local paper editorialized just yesterday that it would be foolish to claim Manitowoc’s problems are solely caused by the state budget of Scott Walker. That they are instead the product of years and decades of mismanagement.
Manitowoc is not the only Wisconsin unit of government to encounter budgeting troubles this year. For every success story the administration in Madison touts, there are horror stories like Manitowoc’s, though it may not be appropriate to blame the Walker camp for the city’s struggles that reflect years of questionable budget tactics.
While some unique factors led to the current debacle, we are confident that a combination of sacrifice, diligence and hard work can get the city’s budget house back in order.
Manitowoc’s answer for years was to bond itself today and pay for it in the future. Well, a lot of that is coming due now, and it’s not going to be pretty. It also would have happened if Tom Barrett was Governor or anyone else for that matter.