Wisconsin was one of the first states to adopt a merit and experience-based civil service hiring system with the passage of the Civil Service Act of 1905. It was sponsored by my grandfather, Ernest N. Warner, who was in the State Assembly and was the sole author of 1905 Assembly Bill 5 which passed the Legislature on a strong bipartisan vote. It has been the backbone of Wisconsin’s state employment relations for over 100 years.
The purpose of the Civil Service System is to hire the most qualified person for the job, based on test results and experience, rather than political affiliation and local party bosses which was the norm at that time. Legislative Republicans and the Governor have proposed legislation to overhaul our state’s civil service system. The proposed changes include replacing civil service merit exams with a resume-based system, and the elimination of many seniority protections. More concerning is the proposed centralized vetting of applicants and hiring of all state jobs within the Department of Administration. Currently each agency makes their own hiring and firing decisions.
In my view, the current effort to replace our civil service system is nothing more than an attempt to return state hiring to the pre-civil service days of hiring people based on patronage and political handouts rather than merit. With every hiring decision being filtered through one office of the Governor’s Department of Administration, there will be far less transparency and greater mistrust in the hiring decisions being made for state jobs.
Repealing Wisconsin’s civil service program and protections, and returning Wisconsin to a system of political patronage, corruption and cronyism will further erode Wisconsin’s reputation for clean government. It will also reinforce the feeling among many Wisconsin residents that their current government isn’t working for them or on the real issues facing the state.
Civil Service in state employment has served Wisconsin well for over 100 years. We shouldn’t go back to the days of hiring people because of who they know rather than what they know.
If you would like to contact me or my office on any matters of interest to you, please feel free to contact me by mail at: Senator Fred Risser, PO Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882, by phone at: (608) 266-1627, or by e-mail at: Sen.Risser@legis.wisconsin.gov