Wisconsin Dems: Walker Kicking Open Door to Cronyism and Corruption

(Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Labor’s outrage over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s signature on legislation that drastically changes the state’s civil service system could be heard as far away as Hawaii.

Six of Hawaii’s largest unions stationed protesters outside the venue where Walker was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a Hawaii GOP Lincoln Day Dinner.

The speech, and accompanying protest, came four days after Walker signed Recruitment and Retention Reform legislation.

Proponents of the package said Wisconsin’s century-old civil service laws were outdated. More importantly, they maintained the state would not able to hire the best available workers until the system was brought in line with the way the private sector hires and fires.

Opponents,such as the editorial board of the New York Times said the legislation would cripple the state’s public sector employee unions, and the state’s ability to hire the best people available.

The Recruitment and Retention Reform package includes the elimination of civil service exams. New employees will now be hired on the basis of their resumes and the impressions they leave behind with managers, just like in the private sector.

When jobs need to be cut, the layoffs will be based not on seniority but on merit, which in a private company that doesn’t have a union is precisely the way the ax falls.

It also includes $6 million in merit pay bonuses.

With a 30-day time limit on each step of the hiring process, the reforms are also intended to speed up the hiring process that Gov. Walker said could take as long as six months pre-Recruitment and Retention Reform.

The New York Times editorialized that the package does nothing but bring back the patronage system that progressive Wisconsin Gov. Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette eliminated close to 100 years ago.

“What’s a politician to do after his ballyhooed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination flames out before the first vote is cast?” the NYT editorial board wrote. “In the case of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, it means returning home to the anti-labor obsession that got him noticed in the first place — and signing into law, less than two weeks ago, a ’reform’ plan that promises to gut much of the state’s historic Civil Service system.”

Ironically, Walker put pen to paper to sign the civil-service reform package within two days of the fifth anniversary of his introduction of Act 10 legislation and “dropped the bomb” on Wisconsin civil servants and their families, according to Rick Badger, the executive director of AFSCME Council 32.

Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, affected collective bargaining, compensation, retirement, health insurance and sick leave for public sector employees.

Badger said Act 10 set off a “mass exodus” of public sector workers from Wisconsin in 2011.

“The problem isn’t the civil service system,” he said. “The problem is that public employees have been pounded on for so long by this administration that public service jobs today are far less attractive than they were just five years ago.”

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca said Wisconsin will find it even harder to hire and keep quality civil servants because of the legislative package Walker signed Feb. 12.

“By dismantling our state’s civil service system, Governor Walker and legislative Republicans are kicking down the door for cronyism and corruption in Wisconsin,” Barca said.

“The civil service system was founded on the idea that state employees should serve the public interest, not partisan political interests. Republicans have made it clear they will stop at nothing to consolidate their own power while rewarding their cronies with taxpayer-funded jobs,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R) said nothing could be further from the truth. He argued Wisconsin’s outdated civil service system desperately needed to be reformed if only to keep pace with the way the best and the brightest are hired in the for-profit sector.

“The state’s hiring process will be more effective and top-quality employees can receive merit-pay bonuses,” Steineke said. “Employees will clearly know what actions are cause for immediate dismissal, and the appeals process will be streamlined.”

Gov. Walker tweeted a message after signing the Recruitment and Retention Reform package in which he assured Wisconsin the legislation would “move state government into the 21st century.”

Walker also assured reporters during the signing of the bill at a Manpower office that political cronyism in civil service hiring would be just as illegal under the Recruitment and Retention Reform package as it was in the century that preceded it.

“This bill provides state agencies with clear direction to create uniform disciplinary practices to address the few bad actors who abuse the system,” Walker said. “These civil service reforms provide a more effective, efficient, and streamlined hiring process to ensure state government operates at a good value for our citizens.”