Wednesday, February 20, 2013

FitzGerald the reformer, FitzGerald the loyal Democrat

Ed FitzGerald, scourge of patronage machines and ally of public employee unions -– the Cuyahoga County executive will have to lay claim to both reputations if he’s going to run for governor. He tried to do that in one key part of his State of the County address yesterday, but if you slow it down for the replay, you can hear the strain.

First, he cited some figures that, if you weren’t listening carefully, might’ve led you to think he’s cut county government by 30 percent.

Personnel costs are our number one expenditure, and that was our number one focus for reducing costs. There is a frequently repeated myth about government that it always gets larger, it can never become more efficient, and we have proven that wrong. In 2007, there were 6,374 county employees, and at the end of 2012 we were down to 4,507, a reduction of over 1,800 positions.

Today, that last line made it to the front page of The Plain Dealer, without anyone asking, hey, how much of that reduction is FitzGerald responsible for? The answer, according to county budget documents I looked at, is somewhere around 280 to 433 positions. FitzGerald took office in January 2011. Before that, the old county commissioners actually shed roughly 1,500 employees because declining tax revenues forced them to.

FitzGerald did take on the harder work of cutting union employees. He’s eliminated at least 350 unionized positions, county records show -- about as many as the county commissioners cut in 3½ years. But of course he can’t brag about that if he’s going to run for governor. Public employee unions, still enraged at Gov. John Kasich for signing Senate Bill 5, will provide a lot of the fervor, volunteers and cash for Kasich’s challenger next year.

So FitzGerald executed this quick reverse-twirl in his speech, a move from reformer to union-friendly liberal.

We have 31 separate bargaining units we negotiate with, and we have asked all of them to work with us to contain costs, and they have responded. Now, I know there are some who believe the road to good government runs right over the government worker. But I don’t believe that you can serve the people by attacking the people’s employees. In this process, our unions agreed to unprecedented concessions. County employees were part of the solution.

That, of course, is a dig at Kasich -- FitzGerald’s biggest one-eye-on-Columbus line of the day.

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