Thursday, November 05, 2009

First Class Taxpayer, Second Class Citizen

I borrowed the title of this blog from a sign that I saw in a photo from the national equality march last month. I remember seeing that sign and thinking that it really just says it all. Members of the LGBT community are certainly expected to pay the same taxes as their straight counterparts, yet they and their families are treated as second class citizens in many respects. Thanks to the actions County Supervisors Christopher Larson and Marina Dimitrijevic, Milwaukee County LGBT workers and their families have moved a little closer to equality. Today the full Milwaukee County Board voted 13-6 to draft domestic partner revisions to the county health plan.

Naturally Scott Walker, personnel director David Arena, and at least Supervisors Sanfelippo and Cesarz all publicly read from the same talking points before the actual vote. They are willing to pretend that this is a financial issue but I don't think that anyone really believes that it is that cut and dry with these particular officials.

The ever tasteless Sanfelippo said that it was "almost a slap in the face to our employees" because he is asking them to take pay cuts and furloughs right now. I have a clue for the clueless supervisor: a portion of "our employees" are LGBT people and your comments are a "slap in the face" to them. So not only does Sanfelippo want LGBT county employees to give up pay and work time but he also wants them to give up any hope of providing the same benefits for their families as the rest of "our employees". He says that "we have to draw the line somewhere" and apparently he is drawing that line at "the gays".

As I said, the aforementioned naysayers in Milwaukee County Government pretend that this is a financial issue and resist the benefits publicly for that reason. David Arena supported his boss by putting out what appear to be hyper inflated numbers. He said that it would cost $3.9 million a year, but the City of Milwaukee, which has had domestic partner benefits for seven years, plans to spend only $216,000 on them next year (0.3% of the $75 million that the city pays in overall health care costs for employees).

Just to put some of these numbers into some context, there were 78 children of Milwaukee County workers that were born or adopted into the benefits system last year. By comparison, in the City of Milwaukee after seven full years of offering domestic partner benefits, they only have 30 workers that are taking advantage of them.

Scott Walker said that they shouldn't even consider new benefits and if anything that they should be more bold in benefit cuts. If he really believes that then why doesn't he start with his own benefits? Does Walker carry any members of his family on the Milwaukee County benefit plan? If he does then he should lead by example because his family isn't any better than any other employee of Milwaukee County. But then again we already know that he is not one to hold himself to the same standards that he expects from other public employees.

Thursday morning I sent a request to David Arena asking if he, Walker, Sanfelippo and Cesarz all carry their respective spouses on the county benefit plan. I have not heard from him today and don't know if I ever will but the point is very clear. They apparently believe that LGBT families should be treated as first class taxpayers but second class citizens. Thankfully, (so far) a veto proof majority of the board disagrees.

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