Skip to comments.Walker waste panel identifies nearly a half billion in savings
Posted on 01/12/2012 6:45:25 PM PST by afraidfortherepublic
$456 million can be cut, commission report says
Madison - A report by Gov. Scott Walker's commission to cut waste and fraud in government says Wisconsin can cut or avoid nearly a half-billion dollars a year in government spending.
The report lays out a total of $456 million in annual spending that it says can be prevented by making changes at every level of government. Most of that spending - $373 million - is done by the state government with another $83 million by local governments.
But not all of that money would necessarily lead to new savings for the state - some savings have already been achieved by other state agencies, some would go to federal taxpayers and some are dependent on action by outside groups such as Congress.
The report by the Waste, Fraud and Abuse Commission looked at everything from state computer systems to employee overtime and public aid programs for the poor. It cites past Journal Sentinel articles on fraud in the state's food assistance program as well as other areas where the newspaper has reported problems, including a state child-care subsidy program and overtime paid to state corrections workers
"With (the state's) budget difficulties, we must make sure that its limited resources are being spent effectively, and ultimately being used for the purposes for which they were intended," commission Chairman Craig Rakowski wrote in the report.
Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Walker, said that it would take time to calculate how much of the savings has already been achieved and how much is still in the works.
Werwie said that not all of the savings would go to state and local taxpayers. Some of it in federal programs would go to federal taxpayers, though Werwie could not give an immediate breakdown of how much.
For instance, the report cited potential savings in the FoodShare program, which serves as the replacement for food stamps in providing food for needy recipients. FoodShare benefits are paid for by federal taxpayers, who would see the benefits of any savings.
Overall, the report said the state could cut down on $177 million in fraud and improper spending in programs such as FoodShare and Medicaid health programs for the needy.
The report noted that because of budget cutbacks, the state spending on efforts to catch fraud and errors has decreased in recent years even as the programs in question have substantially grown.
The report gave what it called a "troubling" example of a state quality-control unit for Medicaid that is supposed to do case reviews to ensure the accuracy of benefits in the program. The unit is federally mandated, but has had no staff for two years because of three unfilled positions, the report said.
Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), a commission member, said that federal rules would make it difficult to implement some recommendations to prevent fraud, such as putting recipients' photos on their FoodShare cards to prevent others from using their benefits.
Some changes already made
The report noted the state will be saving an estimated $5.2 million a year with recently approved changes in how it pays employees overtime, moves that were made possible by Walker's legislation ending most union bargaining by public workers. For decades, correctional officers have received time-and-a-half pay in cases where they did not work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.
For example, if officers call in sick for a shift but then work the immediate next shift, they are paid for 16 hours of work - eight hours at straight pay and eight hours at time and a half.
The state is also changing a requirement that the most senior employees be called first to fill overtime shifts. That adds to the state's costs because those employees are the highest paid.
Much of the savings will occur at the Department of Corrections, which has high overtime expenses because prisons require round-the-clock staffing. Linda Eggert, a spokeswoman for the department, said the agency will be implementing the changes by the end of the month.
Democratic appointees to the commission said they agreed with some parts of the report and disagreed with others but were never given a chance to vote on the group's final report or to have an overarching discussion of what should be in it.
"It was a waste, fraud and abuse of my time," Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) said.
They also questioned whether all the savings would materialize or whether credit for them should go to the commission.
For instance, the commission supports a bill in Congress that would make it easier for the state court system to collect fines levied by courts. But Larson said that passage of that federal legislation was out of the state's hands and that the commission shouldn't receive the credit for it even if it does pass.
In a letter, Larson and Pocan noted that the report calls for requiring state agencies to return $50 million of their allotted budgets each year going forward. But the agencies would still have to do the hard work of identifying where those savings would come from.
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I love good news.
What a deal!
And do you think for a second they didn't collude to take advantage of that?