It’s official: ‘Living wage’ law means more public employees

By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Milwaukee County taxpayers will have to spend close to $218,000 a year to create new government positions related to the county’s “living wage” under a resolution approved Thursday by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

The board, by a vote of 14-4, authorized the Milwaukee County Audit Services Division to hire three officers to oversee compliance of the living wage law at an estimated annual cost of $217,369. That total, however, does not include any potential wage or benefit increases in 2015.

ADDED COSTS: Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen discusses a resolution tied to the county’s living wage at Thursday’s meeting.

Several board members who voted against the proposal called out supporters of the living wage who have insisted a majority of the added costs would be absorbed by contracting companies and not taxpayers.

“This is the first expense to the taxpayers, on top of increased costs and increased costs and increased costs,” said Supervisor Steve Taylor, who called the resolution garbage.

Supervisor Deanna Alexander also told her fellow board members that some of the living wage sponsors were not being entirely truthful throughout the drafting process.

“Even though I do want the county to run smoothly, I do want the department to have the personnel they need to get the job done, I think the original legislation we passed that’s causing this, is flawed to begin with and we didn’t receive all the information we should have,” Alexander said.

A fiscal analysis by the Milwaukee County Comptroller’s Office estimates the $11.32-an-hour living wage, which applies to thousands of county employees and workers under contract with the county, will remove about $11.3 million from the tax levy through 2019.

Supervisor David Bowen, who wrote the living-wage ordinance with help from Service Employees International-affiliated officials, has claimed the comptroller’s office “cherry-picked” those figures to make the living wage look bad.

Supervisor John Weishan also accused the comptroller’s office and audit service division of singling out the staffing resolution to blame increased taxes on the living wage.

In a related move Thursday, the board did not have enough votes to pass a resolution rebidding the contract for county housekeeping services to include the living wage.

Bowen, author the resolution, was seeking to reissue a request for proposal because, he says, the initial bidding process was flawed. He says an agreement with CleanPower, a private janitorial firm in Wauwatosa, was “bundled” to effectively deny minority firms an opportunity to be the primary contractor.

The Milwaukee County Department of Administrative Services had asked supervisors to lock in a $3.4 million deal with CleanPower before May 19, when the living wage law takes effect. That move would have saved taxpayers about $2 million over three years.

But the county’s Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee last week amended Bowen’s original resolution to ensure any company selected would have to pay their employees the living wage.

“These are low-level, entry-level-type jobs, but they still require hardworking people that deserve a decent wage and benefits,” Weishan said. “I don’t quite understand why we want to continue the privatization streak.”

Contact Adam Tobias at atobias@watchdog.org or follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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