Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel uses our polling data to make the case for more state employee benefit “flexibility:”
What’s surprising is that Walker is willing to consider what amounts to abolishing public unions. And with the news Wednesday that Walker’s Republican colleagues might introduce right-to-work legislation next year, the climate for labor is growing chillier by the day.
Tough talk. But when it comes to the public employee unions, it’s justified.
Walker is not asking the impossible here: He merely wants state workers to pay more of their share for their benefits – just as most employees at companies do.
Walker wants them to pay 5% of the contributions to their pension plans – they don’t pay at all now – and to pay a larger share of their health insurance premiums – up to 12% from 4% to 6%.
These eminently reasonable ideas would save $154 million between January and June 30, he said.
There is little doubt that a fed-up public is on his side. In a statewide poll conducted last summer for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute’s Refocus Wisconsin project, 76% thought that public employees should contribute to their pensions. Only 17% said it was understandable that they did not.
As the Great Recession rolled across the heartland, Wisconsin’s budgets got harder and harder to balance. In the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, the state faces a shortfall of at least $150 million. That gap grows to a whopping $3.3 billion in the next biennium.
Trimming worker benefits is one tool needed to fill those budget holes. To do that, the state needs more flexibility.
They don’t say specifically what type of “flexibility” would be needed, but the board objects to the idea of “stripping the unions of their bargaining authority.” Of course, any unilateral mandate the state imposes on unions (requiring more of a contribution towards health care and pensions, for instance) will be viewed by the unions as “stripping” them of their bargaining rights. But as we’ve shown in report after report, state employee benefits are a primary driver of state spending, which has to be curtailed to fill the $3 billion hole Wisconsin faces.