In the aftermath of this winter’s union protests in Madison and related events, Wisconsinites are beginning to do the math, and they don’t like the huge numbers one single bit.
Protest-related costs are huge – and taxpayers across the state are on the hook for them.
Protesters gathered in February and March at the state Capitol in Madison over the elimination of collective bargaining for state employee benefits in Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.
They occupied the Capitol building 24/7 for several weeks, demonstrating, eating, sleeping, and microwaving meals in the Capitol building rotunda. They taped or otherwise adhered protest signs to marble walls in the interior. The building is an historical landmark, and its marble walls must be cleaned by hand with special solvents. The state architect says art conservators would do much of the work; they charge $100 per hour. He says assessing the damage alone would cost $500,000.
He was criticized for his original total estimate of cleanup costs at $7.5 million, including restoring the Capitol lawn, which protesters turned into a muddy wasteland. The estimate for re-sodding and landscaping alone is $1 million. So the architect may not have been that far off.
Not to worry, though. The union is stepping up to the plate. Union officials pledged to contribute some of the $67,000 fund collected to defray protest expenses to the state’s protest-related repair costs.
But building repair costs are not all. The architect’s estimate excludes added security costs during the Madison protests. These costs, for compensation and travel expenses for police officers and sheriff’s deputies from throughout the state totaled $3.27 million as of about a month ago,but are expected to reach about $5 million when all the costs from about 150 police departments and other units of government are in.
And if you don’t live in Racine, you’re lucky. Taxpayers there just got the bad news the teachers’ union-organized “sick-in” in the local school district on February 17 is going to cost them about $478,000.
About 25% of the district’s teachers called in sick that day, urged by the union to protest in Madison. So the schools had to close. As a result, the school district is required by state law to add a day of instruction at the end of the school year in June, at an unbudgeted cost to the taxpayers of about $478,000. Teachers and staff were all paid for February 17, even those who called in sick, and they will also have to be paid for the extra day. School officials say they’re investigating whether the sick-in calls were valid, though the first word about any such investigation there came in response to the news about the extra spending.
Taxpayers will also be footing the bill for special elections will be held in at least eight state senate districts this summer, where senators have been recalled. Again, estimates are fuzzy, but county election officials say it costs as much for a recall election with a single candidate as it does for an election in which multiple candidates are involved. The recall is primarily aimed at Republicans who voted for the Walker budget bill.
And then there’s the state Supreme Court race recount demanded by union-backed liberal candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg, in a campaign characterized as a referendum on Walker. A vote for her opponent, her backers said, was a vote for Walker.
Right or left, most political pundits in the state agree there should be a recount in Waukesha County, near Milwaukee. There, it was discovered, two days after the election, the county clerk had not reported about 14,000 votes to Associated Press on election night – AP is the only game in town for real-time statewide returns.
Until the votes were found, Kloppenburg was ahead by 204 votes out of about 1.5 million votes cast statewide, but the Waukesha totals gave a win to her conservative opponent, David Prosser. State elections officials spent a week investigating and recounting votes there and certified Prosser as the victor by a margin of over 7,000 votes. There’s no evidence of hanky-panky in the county – the clerk has been under fire for years because she refuses to use the state reporting computer system – relying instead on her personal computer, described as “antiquated.”
It’s anyone’s guess how many millions of dollars this recount is going to cost. In Milwaukee County alone, the estimate is $500,000. But that was before it emerged the election software in all of the state’s 72 counties lacks enough memory to store data from both the election and the recount.
So taxpayers will be footing the bill for millions of dollars in protest-related costs. One commentator suggested this bill amounts to a fine against voters who elected Walker and Prosser. Even so, the alternatives would have been far costlier.