Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Jenifer Finley Falls Off Her High Horse

In the grand scheme of things that matter to me, Jenifer Finley's recent employment situation ranks just below the accumulation of dry toothpase at the base of my toothbrush. But when political appointees start to make grand statements about how pure they are, I get suspicious. So I did a little digging.

As you recall, Finley recently savaged Vrakas for presenting a budget that wasn't "fiscally conservative" enough. She said, in a statement released on Christmas Eve entitled "I Can No Longer Sit Silent":

"I resigned because I felt that Mr. Vrakas did not present a conservative budget. As Mr. Vrakas' former campaign chairperson, I feel that Mr. Vrakas promised but then did not deliver a conservative enough budget to the taxpayers.

Mr. Vrakas rejected my recommendations and many others that would have provided far more significant relief to the taxpayers. Ultimately, he whittled down the budget cuts to what I consider an unacceptably low amount."

Vrakas' sin was that he "allowed" a property tax increase of $2.5 million for county services. Conservatives saw this as a property tax increase, when Vrakas actually lowered the tax rate. So people were paying a lower rate, but because their property values increased, the effect was to increase revenue to the county by $2.5 million. This same game of semantics happens every budget in every local government.

Now let's look at the 2004 budget proposed by Finley's husband, former County Executive Dan Finley. According to a September 2004 article by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Scott Williams, Dan Finley's 2004 budget increased taxes by $3.3 million, for an increase of 4% over the previous year. In fact, Finley actually used this $3.3 million tax increase as evidence that Wisconsin doesn't need a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, since he called the 4% increase a "freeze."

In 2003, Dan Finley introduced a budget that increased taxes by $3.5 million, for an increase of 4.4% that year. In 2002, it was $2.9 million, for an increase of 4% over the previous year. You get the picture.

So now where again was Jenifer Finley's high minded rhetoric about conservative values when her husband Dan was proposing tax increases greater than what Vrakas proposed? Was she issuing press releases saying she could no longer remain married to a man who couldn't propose "a conservative budget?" Can she "no longer sit silent" because she did so for so many years while her husband jacked up taxes? What were all these great spending cutting ideas that she foisted on Vrakas that she never was able to talk her husband into?

This is why I think Jenifer Finley's whole act is a charade. I have no special insight into the situation, but I imagine she did something to make her presence in Vrakas' office unbearable. Vrakas canned her, and now she's out to get her pound of flesh from him. Regardless of what happened between herself and Vrakas, she knew the conservatives would jump at the bait in her defense if she threw the tax increase chum out there in the water.

Regardless of what you think of Dan Vrakas' budgeting and hiring practices (the latter are obviously awful), firing Jenifer Finley was the right thing to do. Waukesha County is better for it. It is time for everyone to "heal and move on," which Finley ironically urged everyone to do in her Christmas Eve Massacre letter as she was knifing Vrakas in the back.

Oh, and James Wigderson has a great post summarizing the blogosphere's take on "Finleygate," complete with valuable links.