Walker’s doesn’t know right, wrongRichard Lange of South Range
To the Telegram:
When is a lie not a lie? When is intentional deception acceptable? Is a lie of omission ever acceptable?
According to my mom, and I have the inexhaustible privilege of still seeking her advice and counsel regarding matters of right and wrong, the answer is never. And the last time I sought confirmation, she said: “Why are you still asking me this? You know truth from deception, you know right from wrong, son.”
I sometimes wonder if Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker ever asked his mom this question — not that I blame the governor’s mother for her son’s deception. Scott Walker is bright enough to know when he is perpetuating a lie.
Lie No. 1: “Historically, public employees in Wisconsin have not been paying their fair share toward their pensions. No one in the private sector gets retirement benefits paid for by their employer.”
That’s not true on the face of it but that’s not the point of this submission.
In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration imposed cost controls on wage increases. Inflation was so high, well into double digits, and the negotiating committee of the Superior Federation of Teachers and the Board of Education were limited to no more than 5 percent total increase in employee wages and benefits. That limit sounds so generous now with low inflation and cost of living. After negotiating long hours, it was mutually acceptable to settle at the 5 percent ceiling. We, with the Board of Education, agreed to leave the salary schedule as is and instead put the 5 percent toward the teacher’s required contribution to the Wisconsin Retirement System. In other words, teachers would not receive a raise in their salaries but instead would defer this compensation toward their retirement.
This was a mutually beneficial solution, a “win-win” as is said now. How did the school board and the taxpayers of the district benefit in this win-win?
Taxpayers of the district did not need to pay payroll taxes on this deferred compensation. Employers and employees each pay a payroll tax of 7.65 percent of every dollar of salary. By placing this 5 percent increase in employee wages and benefits into the retirement system, both the taxpayers and teachers saved on payroll taxes.
This was the “win-win,” saving the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars over nearly four decades. So, when one hears the governor assert public employees should pay “their fair share,” I proclaim that we do and always have. Teachers could have had a 5 percent increase in our salary for those same 40 years. That would have put money in our pockets. We collectively bargained the 5 percent go to pay our required contribution to our retirement benefit. We gave up money-in-hand for 40 years, saved ourselves the taxes on the 5 percent and, best of all for the taxpayers of the School District of Superior, saved them the obligatory 7.65 percent payroll tax payment.
Lie No. 2: “Historically, public employees in Wisconsin have not been paying their fair share toward their health insurance. No one in the private sector gets health insurance paid for by his or her employer.”
Another mistruth on the face of it, but I digress.
Since 1992, public-school teachers in Wisconsin have been severely limited in their capacity to collectively bargain any increase in total salary and benefit compensation because of the qualified economic offer (QEO). If a school district offered a QEO of 3.8 percent, monetary collective bargaining was over, done. So, with huge increases in the cost of health insurance, the salary schedule changed very little because the 3.8 percent was used to pay health care premium increases. The teachers in our school district chose once again to forego salary in lieu of health insurance premium increases paid by the district. Oh, one more thing before I go away. You just can’t take the teacher out of me! So here’s a pop quiz: Do you recall the payroll tax savings the district’s taxpayers have enjoyed for some 40 years from the deferred 5 percent compensation paid to the retirement system mentioned earlier? Well, payments made by the employer for health insurance premiums are not subject to the 7.65 percent payroll tax. Yes, it’s another substantial savings for taxpayers of the School District of Superior, another win-win.
The teachers in Superior and all across Wisconsin opted to have salary increases deferred or foregone in lieu of payments to the retirement system and health insurance premiums. So when Walker and his disingenuous friends in the legislature tell you that public employees in Wisconsin have too generous a benefit package, ask him and his cohorts in deception, if he understands that salaries have not increased with time and compensation was taken in the form of benefits. Ask him how he missed the above-cited truth.
When is a lie not a lie? When is intentional deception acceptable? Is a lie of omission ever acceptable? Ask your mom if you still have her with you. She’ll know.
Editor’s note: Lange taught biology and geology at the high school in Superior from 1970 until 2003 and is past president of the Superior Federation of Teachers.