Striking the right bargain in Wisconsin
Imagine the outrage if government workers did not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits. Consider the massive protests that would be staged by labor leaders all across the country.
Think I'm talking about Wisconsin? No, I'm talking about the federal government.
Contrary to what the Obama administration would lead you to believe, most employees of the federal government do not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits. That means the budget reform plan we signed into law in Wisconsin on Friday is more generous than what President Obama offers federal employees.
Our reform plan calls for a 5.8 percent pension contribution from government workers, including myself, and a 12.6 percent health insurance premium payment. Both are well below what middle-class, private-sector workers pay. Federal workers, however, pay an average of 28 percent of health insurance costs.
It's enough to make you wonder why there are no protesters circling the White House.
My brother is a banquet manager and occasional bartender at a hotel. He pays nearly $800 a month for his family's health insurance and can put away only a little bit toward his 401(k). He would love the plan I'm offering to public employees.
As my brother recognizes, our plan is a good deal for government workers when compared with what other middle-class workers are paying for benefits. It would be a great deal for federal workers.
Nearly every state in the country is facing a large budget deficit, just like the federal government. Many states are cutting billions of dollars in funding for schools and local governments, resulting in massive layoffs or massive property tax increases - or both.
In Wisconsin, we are choosing a different way. The Wisconsin way allows local governments to balance the budget through reasonable benefit contributions. These reasonable contributions will save local governments almost $1.5 billion.
The financial savings in our budget reforms will protect 1,500 jobs this fiscal year and 10,000 jobs over the next two years. The savings come from giving state and local governments the tools to manage benefit costs through collective bargaining reform.
Some have questioned the need to reform collective bargaining. After all, they say, the union bosses in Washington said publicly that their workers were ready to pay a little bit more for their benefits. But the truth is that as the national union bosses were saying one thing, their locals were doing something entirely different. Over the past several weeks, local unions across Wisconsin have pursued contracts without new pension or health insurance contributions. Some have even pushed through pay increases.
Their actions leave one wondering how tone-deaf and out of touch union bosses are with what's happening in the private sector. Even the president instituted a pay freeze on government workers this year, something he was able to do only because federal employees enjoy fewer collective bargaining rights than do Wisconsin workers - even with our recent reforms.
Beyond balancing budgets, our reforms give schools - as well as state and local governments - the tools to improve their operations. We allow them to reward merit and performance instead of facing the barriers of collective bargaining that all too often block innovation and reform. Because of our reforms, government will become more efficient and effective for the people.
Ultimately, our budget repair bill is about the next generation. We are making the difficult decisions now so that our children don't have to make even more difficult choices to balance the budget we left them.
A lot of people have made their voices heard during this debate, including the president and the union bosses. But middle-class taxpayers who want a government that works for them also deserve a voice. Now they have one.
The writer, a Republican, is governor of Wisconsin.