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Madison mayor siphons unemployment to fix budget mess

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Madison’s leftist mayor is looking to use federal taxpayer money to help fix her city’s budget mess.

In a letter last month, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway 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: federal taxpayers and employers who cover the cost of UI benefits.

It’s all part of the magical money tree: the $900 billion extended coronavirus relief package signed by President Donald Trump in late December. Particularly, the workshare programs aimed at helping businesses avoid layoffs by reducing employee hours. The workers in turn file for partial unemployment to offset their lost hours, compliments of the extended federal CARES Act.

“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 not have to take unpaid time off.

But is the intention of the taxpayer-funded federal relief law to bail out fiscally irresponsible, tax-and-spend city governments? A city spokeswoman did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment.

In her letter, Rhodes-Conway said the city was seeking approval from the state Department of Workforce Development to participate in the program.

Critics say the mayor is abusing the program.

Alderman Paul Skidmore, a conservative on council dominated by leftists, said he’s outraged about the city’s misuse of federal taxpayer dollars.

“This is reprehensible from a public policy perspective. You’re spending taxpayer dollars on this? What is particularly outrageous is considering all the people in the hospitality industry who are struggling to stay fed and have a place to live.”

Rhodes-Conway and the far left council have willingly abdicated power to the local unelected health officer, who has wiped out businesses and cost untold jobs with her COVID-19 emergency orders that have dramatically limited capacity at public gatherings, among other liberty restrictions.

Out-of-control spending on a host of questionable programs and initiatives has left the liberal city’s total debt service rapidly approaching $100 million, and nearly $56 million in general fund debt service. Skidmore said revenue is coming in lower than projected, so city leaders will be looking for more ways to deal with shortfalls.

Workshare has been an effective short-term way for businesses and employees to pass through difficult economic times. Generally, employees receive partial unemployment benefits. They don’t usually end up making more on unemployment than they did at their jobs. COVID-19 and the federal government’s generous response to it changed the calculus.

Skidmore said he’s worried about the ‘unintended consequences,” in which the intended savings are eaten up by overtime.

“Depending on who the employees are (involved in workshare), that could affect the work product that gets done,” the alderman said, adding that he’s hearing about project delays from department heads.

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