Wisconsin Lessons for St. Pete: Cut Government Down To Size

Wisconsin voters tonight denied the attempt of a small group of liberal democrats to remove Governor Walker from office.  Governor Walker was retained in a landslide as were all four Republican Senators (Correction 6/6/12 – one Democrate won 1/4 elections by 800 votes in late update to results). The recall begain with Occupiers, unions, progressives and democrats storming the capitol and holding it hostage over retaining excessive government worker benefits.  Wisconsin Democrat Senators literally fled the state and had to be hunted down by State troopers rather than cast a simple vote on workers benefits.  The campaign began with collective baragaing and workers benefits as the centerpiece, but ended with a chaotic mess of progressives complaining about everything and anything in a desparate attempt to salvage their futile campaign. The City Council and the Mayor of St. Petersburg had better take notice as they seek to raise taxes to fund their bloated government. The voters have had enough and want government cut down to size.

Number of St. Petersburg government workers go down – employee costs go uP?  What’s wrong with this picture?   Maybe the Wisconsin election will educate our government leaders to stop this trend.

This lesson should reverberate here in St. Petersburg.  The city also has been delivering excessive worker beenfits for retirement and health insurance for years at the behest of unions.  This is a common scenario when elected officials want to get re-elected by patronage spending in a quid pro quo for votes.  Those days must end in St. Petersburg.  Even now government worker benefits in St. Petersburg far outpace those of private residents of the city.  There is a large unfunded liability for retired worker health benefits of $177 million!  The number of government workers has dropped in St. Petesburg for a number of years, but the cost of salary and benefits has gone up $25 million/year since 2004.  The Average city worker earns $75,000 in salary and benefits while average income in St. Pete is $25,000 per resident!

The City should learn from Wisconsin. There have been many cities accross the nation going bankrupt over worker benefits.  There are many that are going to have lower bond ratings if they don’t alter their employee benefit plans.  The city of San Jose California is in a huge dispute about the pension plans of police and firefighters.  The city needs to make tought choices now and ask the government workers to partner with them. The police, firefigheters and other can trust their retirement plan will be there and the city won’t simply declare bankruptcy one day. They should transition immediately all new hires to defined contribution rather than defined benefit plans – owned by the individual workers, not the government. They should transition all family members to pay their own health insurance costs over 2-3 years. They should transform all health insurance plans to high deductible and catastrophic plans with health savings account as the only funded plan for workers with the workers able to buy a more expensive plan if they like. The Pinellas County School Board is already working to changing the health plan to a High deductible plan and battling the union over it. This Author (Dr. David McKalip)  tried to get the School Board to do this two years ago but was not allowed to have his paid expert present to the School Board despite the guaranteed place on the agenda! Maybe the resistance of the unions is why only 22% of Americans think unions have a positive impact on education.

The time has come for change in the government in St. Petersburg. Will the elected leaders finally get the message or will the voters have to show them the door?