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‘Fraud, waste and abuse’ in Madison city government

MADISON — Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway wants to issue partial layoffs to city employees so she can help fix the city’s budget mess with federal COVID relief unemployment funds.

State Rep. Tony Kurtz said it sounds like Rhodes-Conway is abusing the taxpayer’s trust.

“It’s fraud, waste and abuse at its core right there,” the Wonewoc Republican said. “She’s basically saying (to city employees), ‘We’re in debt and we don’t want to pay you, so the federal government is going to pay you with everybody’s tax dollars.’ I don’t think that would sit well with my constituents.”

As Empower Wisconsin first reported Monday, Rhodes-Conway in a memo instructed city employees to work fewer hours and sign up for Unemployment Insurance to help fill big-spending Madison’s budget hole. She touts it as a win-win situation for the city’s finances and the government employees, without noting the losers: the federal taxpayers forced to pay for the funding scheme.

The funding comes from extended federal coronavirus relief that picks up 100 percent of Work-Share programs aimed at helping businesses avoid layoffs by reducing employee hours. The workers in turn file for partial unemployment to offset their lost hours, with the federal funding covering the usual percentage of the benefits and then some.

“The federal COVID support bill also includes an additional $300 weekly payment through March 14, 2021,” the mayor wrote. “In some case [sic], employees on Work-Share will earn the same or more per week because of the extra payment.”

Rhodes-Conway wants to use the payroll savings to hit the city’s $1.2 million furlough target this year.

“The more employees that participate in Work-Share, the more the city saves,” the mayor wrote. Also, the more unlikely city workers will have to take unpaid time off.

State law doesn’t exclude government employees from Work-Share programs and apparently from the special federal funding that comes with them. But the statutes also don’t appear to say anything about local government’s laying off public employees and using taxpayer-funded unemployment benefits to fill budget holes.

In her letter, Rhodes-Conway said the city was seeking approval from the state Department of Workforce Development to participate in the program. A city official has not returned Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment on the status of the city’s request and how many employees “volunteered” for the partial layoffs.

Madison Alderman Paul Skidmore told talk show host Vicki McKenna Monday that the optics on the mayor’s plan are terrible.

“It looks like some employees, not through their own volition so to speak, actually benefit from this situation. But it’s sending a terrible message to other employees in the city who are making some of the hard choices. Take a look some of the people that were furloughed or had to take mandatory cuts like the police and fire unions who are not going to be compensated. What kind of message is this sending to them?”

Listen to Vicki McKenna’s entire interview with Alderman Paul Skidmore and Empower Wisconsin’s Matt Kittle here. 

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