Why the budget fix matters to Wisconsinites
While the debate over Governor Walker's budget repair bill rages on at the State Capitol, I wanted to take a moment to provide some clarity on the issues, which unfortunately have divided our community. First, we must pass the Governor's proposal...
While the debate over Governor Walker's budget repair bill rages on at the State Capitol, I wanted to take a moment to provide some clarity on the issues, which unfortunately have divided our community. First, we must pass the Governor's proposal to balance our current budget so we can pay off our bills and set the right course for our future. However, please take note, this debate has nothing to do with how much we value our public servants from teachers to police officers to snow plow drivers. These cost saving measures have nothing to do with the great work that public employees do across the state. The debate is about fiscal responsibility. It's about balancing our budget and tackling the current fiscal crisis.
The state is nearly $140 million dollars in the hole for the budget cycle that ends June 30th. For the next two years, the projected deficit is $3.6 billion. We can't ignore these numbers; that would only make the situation worse and more costly. Millions of voters in Wisconsin elected us to make the tough decisions and that's what we intend to do.
Governor Walker has simply explained we can either lay off 1500 people right now and more than 6000 over the next two years, or we can ask public employees to share in the same sacrifices that have been made by private sector employees in every part of our state. Public employees would contribute half to their pensions. Currently, they contribute almost nothing, while almost no private sector employee has a defined benefit pension. State employees also will be reasonably asked to pay about 12 percent of their health insurance. That is less than half the national average, leaving the state to pick up about 88 percent of the cost. The savings to these measures would be $30 million dollars just in the next few months.
It's important to point out that the budget repair bill does not eliminate unions. Public employees will still have the right to join one but won't be forced to or be mandated to pay union dues. Public unions will still be able to collectively bargain for their wages and file grievances. Wisconsin's civil service laws, which are among the strongest in the nation, will remain. Public employees will continue to enjoy the same generous benefits pertaining to sick leave, vacation and retirement.
With a $3.6 billion dollar deficit on the horizon in the next budget, Governor Walker will be forced to propose significant across-the-board cuts. Local governments and school districts must have the tools to balance their budgets without increased employee costs. We have found that collective bargaining has a huge fiscal impact. It is too costly in terms of dollars, human capital and time.
In Milwaukee County, because the union collectively bargained for paid time off, 14 employees receive salary and benefits for doing union business. The price tag to the county was $170,000.
Then, there are unrealistic overtime provisions. In Madison, the highest paid city employee was a city bus driver because he worked $109,000+ in overtime. On the state level, the Department of Corrections allows correctional workers who call in sick to collect overtime if they work a shift on the exact same day. The estimated cost to taxpayers: $4.8 million.
School districts could save money if they had the freedom to enroll in the state employee health benefit plan. The cost savings could be up to $68 million per year. The budget repair bill grants this flexibility.
Other changes need to be made as well to keep good people on the job. Under the current system, employees are compensated based on seniority rather than merit, talent and work load. For instance, in 2010, a teacher who had been named the Outstanding First Year Teacher was laid off from Bradley Tech because she lacked seniority.
We also don't have time to bargain these public employee contracts because the average contract takes 15 months to negotiate. Plus, the state doesn't have anything to offer the unions. We're broke.
Here's the hard reality of it all. If we don't pass the budget repair bill by Friday, the state will lose its ability to refinance its debt and save $165 million leading to deep short-term cuts and possible additional layoffs. We can no longer accept the quick fixes. The time has come to get the job done that we were elected to do and make Wisconsin fiscally sound and strong for future generations.
Robin Vos is a Republican assemblyman representing Racine County.