December 22, 2010
“I thought you as State Senator would get an answer right away,” said the man who needed information from one of our state agencies. I called him to say after two weeks of phone calls I still didn’t have an answer.
With the change of power in Madison comes change in many state agencies. People come and go. But the mass exodus of public employees this month seems unusually great; and with it the state’s ability to continue efficient operations.
Talk swirling around the Capitol is among those leaving state service were ten top employees from the Department of Revenue.
Our state Department of Revenue has superb staff. Their expertise makes us one of only eleven states able to conduct our own economic forecasting. And the accuracy of those forecasters in predicting a fickle economy benefits all of us.
Let me explain. While the Legislatures of surrounding states returned mid-year to “repair” the budget or pass new cuts in spending and tax increases, Wisconsin’s predictions of revenue remained on track. With over half of the state budget going back to local communities this accuracy kept funding stable for every city, town and village in the state.
This type of expertise is found in many of our state agencies – and it is at risk.
Governor-Elect Walker has made it clear public workers are in the cross hairs of his new administration. He admonished Legislators who wanted to finish up old business by approving union contracts that were already 18 months late. Last week the Legislature met to consider the contracts but failed to muster enough votes to pass them.
Under the contracts public employees would get no pay increases, would be required to take unpaid furloughs and would make increased contributions to health care premiums and pensions. According to the Office of State Employee Relations, the lean contracts provided a savings to taxpayers of $103.2 million dollars.
Tough times require austerity. Every public employee is doing more with less. Some have taken on jobs previously done by 2 or 3 people. Others have seen colleagues hired off to private industry at nearly twice the salary.
As the new Chief Executive of an approximately 60,000 worker firm devoted to public service, Governor-Elect Walker has an obligation to lead and should encourage an attitude of excellence and high quality service for all public servants.
We have been through one tough budget and are facing another. Now is the time to reach out to every pubic worker and engage them in a discussion of how to streamline government and where to invest in resources. The solution for many of the thorny problems facing our great state is in the collective wisdom of those who have labored so long in public service. Our workers have the knowledge and experience to identify what programs need to be fixed and how to get the job done.
Business leaders learned decades ago to create a responsive and profitable company, managers must unleash the creative potential in their workforce. Having spent a decade teaching leadership and two decades in various management roles, I have seen companies succeed and fail because of the perceived value of employee service by their Chief Executive.
Our state’s most precious resources are our people. Governor-Elect Walker must not squander an opportunity to work together for the public good of all in this great state. Instead he has an opportunity to rally public employees and engage them in real problem solving. Workers respond to a leader who values their expertise and service.
In the words of the late former State Representative Harvey Stower, “We are here to serve and not be served.” Public employees provide for our safety, care for our seniors and disabled, teach our children, plow our streets and provide other vital services to citizens across the state.
When times are difficult and cut backs are required, collaboration and cooperation between our public workforce and our new Governor in meeting the needs of citizens will be critical to our success of our state and our ability to rise from the ashes of the Great Recession.