Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

The Pitfalls of Being a Do-Something Governor

Can Wisconsin handle the truth?  We’re about to find out.

Think back to all the politicians you’ve seen that go back on campaign promises.  Make a list of all the candidates that tell you just what you want to hear.  Your pen will run out of ink before you get halfway through.  WPRI polling has shown record levels of distrust towards elected officials, as the public doesn’t think most politicians have any courage or any convictions.

And yet here in Wisconsin, we have a new governor who is both carrying through on a campaign promise and being honest about the state’s fiscal situation.  And he will be excoriated for it.

Today, Governor Scott Walker will be officially introducing his plan to significantly reduce the influence of public employee unions.  His plan will require unionized state workers to contribute 5% to their pensions (they contribute nothing now), and 12% to their health insurance (doubling the 6% they now contribute.)  If Walker’s plan doesn’t pass, unions can expect over 6,000 worker layoffs in order to aid in covering the state’s deficit.

Naturally, the public employee unions will act as if Walker has just personally thrown their grandmother out into the street.  They will use verbs indicating physical violence – “Walker assaults public employees,” or “Walker declares war on government workers.”  Walker will be taking a “meat cleaver” to the children of the state, or better yet, from Senator Spencer Coggs: Walker has introduced “legalized slavery.”  (As if slaves in the South were saying, “boy, I’m glad we don’t make an average of $50,000 per year with full health and pension benefits.  Thank God we’re not Wisconsin government workers.”)

Democratic Assemblyman Mark Pocan fell just short of actually urging state workers to strike, saying he hopes “public employees will make their value expressly known in the days to come.”  Public employee strikes are illegal and have been virtually nonexistent since passage of a landmark mediation-arbitration law in 1977.  How often do you see a publicly elected official urging citizens to break the law?

You’ll see these public employee histrionics because they have been lulled into complacency.  We’re coming off a decade where unions were told they could operate as-is despite budget cuts.  We’ve been told we can continue to spend despite plummeting tax receipts.  We’ve been told we can eat all we want and never get fat.  We’ve had a Legislature and Governor unwilling to make tough decisions, thereby throwing the state budget $3.6 billion out of whack.

In November, we elected a governor who said he was going to do something about it.  And now he is.  And the unions and their sycophantic legislators are serving notice – don’t ever take the steps necessary to balance the state’s books, or else.  A lesson Scott Walker’s predecessor took to heart.


  1. I supported the republican party to end the nonsense of over regulation and wasteful spending, not to destroy the labor relations act and the ability of workers in both the private and public sector to bargain for working conditions. If the Walker bill passes, the republican party will be losing my support.

  2. I don’t understand the sudden vindictiveness of Wisconsin citizens towards its public employees. True, state labor negotiations through the years, time and again, accepted a better benefits package over higher salaries…now we are all paying the price because the public only knows a fraction of the big picture. (OMG – they pay so LITTLE for health insurance!….) The GOP whipped up a frenzy of spite towards the little public worker (whose avg salary is $40,000 – not $50,000)in order to direct attention away from the real wasteful spending – huge corporate tax breaks. Don’t let them lead you into voting against your own best interests. How is decimating the state worker’s salary going to put money in your pocket? Will you ever see it? Heck no.

  3. Good post here. A question and a comment.
    question: do you know what gov walker and the other legislators contribute right now for their own pension and health premiums? If they are contributing less, they ought to ask the same of themselves as they plan to ask of others less it undermine their efforts.
    Comment: unless I’m mistaken, public employees will not lose their ability to collectively bargain base pay. The point is that changes need to be made and they need to understand what much of the private sector has already been dealing with.

  4. >His plan will require unionized state workers to contribute 5% to their pensions (they contribute nothing now).

    That is incorrect. His plan requires ALL state workers to contribute 5% to their pensions and increased contributions to health care. Not all state workers (not even most) are/were covered by the union. This takes money out of all of their pockets, to the tune of at least 10%, more if you make less than $50K, as this is a very regressive system. Can you take a 10% hit on your take-home pay? Oh right, you probably could, since your wife has a steady government job with a nice pension (that she contributes 0.8% to) and health benefits.

    to Drew–the email I saw is that Gov. Walker and his cabinet will also be paying more for their pensions and health insurance premiums. It’s the least they can do, considering they make 2x-3x what the average state worker does.

  5. Cuts are crucial to our states fiscal security but Walker should go all the way and include fire and police in proposal. Cities, villages and towns will be handcuffed if they can’t control own budgets because polic and fire unions bully them into contracts they can’t afford.

  6. Are Wisconsin Public Employees Over-compensated?

    Walker wants to bring state employees in line with public sector workers? Great, he can start by increasing salaries to match private sector (see link above). After that, he can take make the percentage changes he wants to health insurance and pensions.

    My wife is an attorney for the state. Before taxes, she made less than $49K last year. We have a mortgage, a kid and law school student loans (she went to UW Madison). Especially after having experienced pay cuts of 3%+ the last two years, we really can’t afford another 10%+ on top of that.

  7. While I definitely agree that many of the statements you quote are very confrontational in nature, to say the least, I disagree that Mark Pocan’s statement, “public employees will make their value expressly known in the days to come,” constitutes a call to strike.

    In fact, I think that the wording of his statement instead suggests a non-confrontational approach. But of course, that may reflect my own background as a person who prefers non-confrontational approaches. A biased observer could probably read anything into a statement like that.

    I still think it doesn’t really rank as a “call to strike.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *