Monday, November 27, 2006


When right-wing scolds complain about the supposed perks of public service, nothing gets them going like collectively-bargained former basics everyone used to enjoy, like adequate pensions and progressive sick leave policies. Without this kind of jealousy-inducing coal to stoke the fires of their precious angry-white-male demographic, Mark Belling and Charlie Sykes might have to get real jobs, rather than reading GOP talking-point scripts all day.

Always willing to provide fodder for our whining radio wing-nuts, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel front-paged a review of the use of sick leave by legislators on Sunday that made it look like various lawmakers were sitting at home with their dislocated hips and triple bypasses, laughingly blowing off their time on the state clock, without so much as a nod to the supposed need to file whatever form it is to have the hours they are unavailable docked from their sick leave bank.

This is supposedly significant – claims the article, with the subtlety of a two-by-four – because state employees of all stripes, including legislators, can trade unused sick leave for continued state-paid health insurance after they retire (or, lose an election). Do you realize, you stupid people, that these lawmakers are going to be able to take advantage of this outrageously luxurious end-of-career health care? But they didn’t take sick leave when they were sick! Get the torches and let’s head for the Capitol!

There was enough superficial hand-wringing in the article to give the whole state carpal tunnel. The always-reliable Jay Heck of Common Cause waxed apocalyptic: "It's one of those things that makes people very suspicious of legislators." Well, not very high on the list, but, um, sure. But who is going to decide who is sick and what is a work day for a legislator? Do fundraisers count? I mean, I thought that wack job suggesting teachers arm themselves (Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Green Bay) was pretty sick – can I make him take a sick day? But the state’s political purity police and their constant enablers at the J-S don’t want to be confused by the facts while they’re trying to work up an indignant lather.

Even statehouse veterans like Sen. Mike Ellis and Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (a swell Lake Park Little League dad, by the way – Go White Sox!) were called on to give the politically-safe disclaimers. Stating the obvious, Wasserman claimed "Sick leave is for when you are sick." No wonder the only-paper-in-town has its undies in a bundle.

The real target in all this nonsense is not the legislators, or even the last remnants of the Journal Sentinel’s dignity. No, the real target is the "perk" itself, a smart element of the state employee benefit package. If the carry-over for health care language wasn’t there in the package (or, more significantly, in the state employee union contracts), you would be reading and Heck would be breathing heavily about those lazy state employees using all their sick leave before retirement. But they don’t do that and, as a former union rep for about 4,000 of those fine people in the 90's, I know many of them who overcome minor and major ailments and do their good work in the trenches everyday, sick leave carryover or not.

And, at a time when every legitimate politician should be trying to figure out how to get as many people covered by health insurance as possible, why are the wingers and hand-wringers always trying to pick people out of the pool of the already-insured? It is actually a good thing that thousands of retired state employees are still covered under the state plan after they are done working – that means those thousands are not scraping by with no or inferior health care options. It means less people to worry about while we try to solve the health insurance crisis. Same thing with same-sex or unmarried partners – who cares? More people are covered. That’s progress, in more ways than one.

But, no. The Journal Sentinel has its campaigns, and here comes another one. What? Sen. Fred Risser (age 79) has over $160,000 to spend recklessly on health insurance after he retires? Stop the Insanity!

UPDATE: The other shoe dropped today in the J-S, with the paper screaming across the top of its front page that all those bad convicted legislators will be able to convert their sick-leave balances, just like everyone else. The "perk awaits" them, says the headline. You can just imagine Gary George sitting in federal prison, just waiting to get his hands on all that precious health care. Oh, the humanity!

Having set the issue up in the news pages, the edit page knocks 'em down: "It should end," the editorial concludes, no doubt with "da-dum" sound effects playing in the writers' heads.

Again, this is a solution looking for a problem. More insured people is a good thing. Most of the $3.2 million (I'm sorry -- $3.2 million!) in carryovers will never be used by ex-legislators because of old age, better benefits with other employers or Medicare. Now, if we could just get the J-S to go into campaign mode on the real crisis of the uninsured working poor...nah, maybe not. It's hard to get a pull-quote from Jay Heck on that one.


Anonymous said...

I think you miss the point, its not about state employees who are required to retire (20 years of service) to use there sick leave for health insurance. It is about legislators who are elected and can work 0 to 100 hours a week, they don't need sick time because they are not required put in a set number of hours.

If you or I are sick and don't have sick time we don't get paid legislators get paid every day regardless. If they do nothing they might get unelected but they don't ever need to call in sick. That is why most of them do not even realize the have the benefit.

Mike Plaisted said...

With all due respect to your, um, anonymousness, I did not miss the point of the article. I understand that the legislators are getting credit for not using sick leave that they should not have to use in the first place.

One of my points is: I don't care. If an anomoly in the state benefit plan means that more people -- legislators, interns, people waiting in line at the DMV, whatever -- end up covered (drenched, even) in health insurance, that's a good thing.

My primary point has to do with the ridiculous hyperbole that the Journal Sentinel brings to this non-issue, running the "story" twice across the front page and getting all full-chested in a lead editorial.

It would help if Common Cause, when called for a quote on all this nonsense, would just say. "yeah, well, that's true, but there are about 200 more important issues out there, aren't there?" But, no. Heck can't do that. They might stop quoting him if he woke up one day with some sense of perspective.

Anonymous said...

So the fact that legislators get a perk by all accounts that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars while at the same time state employees do not get that benefit unless they actual work for the state for a minium of 20 years is no big deal.

I see legislators are better than the rest of us and deserve better health insurance coverage than other state employees and non state employees that don't get health coverage now.

I totally see how that is not a story, of course people in reality see it as one including both legislative leaders who are promising to look at this benefit. What a horrible job the Journal Sentinal did in actually bringing up this minor matter which legislators are now forced to address.

Mike Plaisted said...

That's right, you wimpy anonymous person, I don't care that former legislators might be covered with health insurance provided by the state. I support universal health insurance, and if it's one legislator at a time, I'll take it.

I'd check you math, though. I doubt there are enough former legislators taking advantage of this obscene perk to amount to "hundreds of thousands". Thousands, maybe.

Either way, it's money well spent. The point isn't that legislators get perks that others don't -- it's how do we get that health insurance over to the rest of the people.

Just say "yes", anonymous. And come out of the shadows where we can see you and where you are coming from. Or are you afraid of!'s not you, is it, Scooter???

Anonymous said...

Mike I love that it bothers you that I post as anonymous but it is your post that I read and decided to comment on which allows anonymous posts so settle down tough guy.

Whats funny is I am a Democrat not scooter as you said in your last post. The difference is I live in reality, not the blog pretend world that you live in.

You keep fighting for universal health care one post at a time, but legislators receiving better benefits than the constituents they represent does not help that cause. Nor does it help that they recieve better benefits than other state employees.

Mike Plaisted said...

You know, Anony, we need to stop meeting like this.

Fine, your a Dem. (Sorry about the Scooter thing, just guessing.) Fine, you think the sick leave thingee is too much priviledge for our legislators, who don't get much else for hauling their ass around the state to sit in meetings with Mike Ellis. Fine, you've got some other idea to make as many people as possible covered in health insurance. Or not.

Great. Is my world "pretend" because I blog? Or do I blog because my world is pretend? Not really sure. But the fact is: I don't live in a pretend world, which you can see because, hey, my name is out there and you can Google or CCAP to your heart's content.