“People like the woman from Wausau”
February 22, 2011
Wisconsin is showing the rest of the country how to have a passionate, yet civil debate about our finances. That’s a very Midwestern trait and something we should be proud of. I pray, however, that this civility will continue as people pour into our state from all across America.
First, let me be clear: I have great respect for those who have chosen a career in government. I really do.
In 1985, when I was a high school junior in the small town of Delavan, I was inspired to pursue public service after I attended the American Legion’s Badger Boys State program. The military veterans and educators who put on that week‐long event showed the honor in serving others.
Tonight, I thank the 300,000‐plus state and local government employees who showed up for work today and did their jobs well. We appreciate it. If you take only one message away tonight, it’s that we all respect the work that you do.
I also understand how concerned many government workers are about their futures. I’ve listened to their comments and read their emails.I listened to the educator from Milwaukee who wrote to me about her concerns about the legislation and what it might mean for her classroom.
That’s why last week we agreed to make changes to the bill to address many of those issues.
And I listened to others like the correctional officer in Chippewa Falls who emailed me arguing that bargaining rights for public employee unions are the only way to ensure that workers get a fair say in their working conditions.
I understand and respect those concerns. It’s important to remember that many of the rights we’re talking about don’t come from collective bargaining. They come from the civil service system in Wisconsin. That law was passed in 1905 (long before collective bargaining) and it will continue long after our plan is approved.
You see, despite a lot of the rhetoric we’ve heard over the past 11 days the bill I put forward isn’t aimed at state workers, and it certainly isn’t a battle with unions. If it was, we would have eliminated collective bargaining entirely or we would have gone after the private‐sector unions.
But, we did not because they are our partners in economic development. We need them to help us put 250,000 people to work in the private sector over the next four years.
The legislation I’ve put forward is about one thing. It’s about balancing our budget now ‐‐ and in the future. Wisconsin faces a 137 million dollar deficit for the remainder of this fiscal year and a 3.6 billion dollar deficit for the upcoming budget.
Our bill is about protecting the hardworking taxpayer. It’s about Wisconsin families trying to make ends meet and help their children.
People like the woman from Wausau who wrote me saying “I’m a single parent of two children, one of whom is autistic. I have been intimately involved in my school district, but I can no longer afford the taxes I pay. I am in favor of everyone paying for benefits, as I have to.”
It’s also about the small business owner who told me about the challenges he faces just making payroll each week. His employees pay much larger premiums than we are asking because that’s how they keep the company going and that’s how they protect their jobs. Or the substitute teacher here in Madison, who wrote to me last week about having to sit at home unable to work because her union had closed the school down to protest.
She sent me an email that went on to say, “I was given no choice in joining the union and I am forced to pay dues … I am missing out on pay today … I feel like I have no voice.”
I assure you that she does have a voice.
And so does the factory worker in Janesville who was laid off nearly two years ago. He’s a union guy in a union town who asks simply why everyone else has to sacrifice except those in government.
Last week, I traveled the state visiting manufacturing plants and talking to workers – just like the guy from Janesville. Many of them are paying twenty‐five to fifty percent of their health care premiums. Most, had 401k plans with limited or no match from the company.
My brother’s in the same situation. He works as a banquet manager and occasional bartender at a hotel and my sister‐in‐law works for a department store. They have two beautiful kids.
In every way, they are a typical middle‐class family here in Wisconsin. David mentioned to me that he pays nearly $800 a month for his health insurance and the little he can set aside for his 401k.
He—like so many other workers across Wisconsin—would love a deal like the benefits we are pushing in this budget repair bill.
That’s because what we are asking for is modest—at least to those outside of government.
Our measure asks for a 5.8% contribution to the pension and a 12.6% contribution for the health insurance premium. Both are well below the national average.
And this is just one part of our comprehensive plan to balance the state’s 3.6 billion dollar budget deficit.
Now, some have questioned why we have to reform collective bargaining to balance the budget. The answer is simple the system is broken: it costs taxpayers serious money—particularly at the local level. As a former county official, I know that first hand.
For years, I tried to use modest changes in pension and health insurance contributions as a means of balancing our budget without massive layoffs or furloughs. On nearly every occasion, the local unions (empowered by collective bargaining agreements) told me to go ahead and layoff workers. That’s not acceptable to me.
Here’s another example: in Wisconsin, many local school districts are required to buy their health insurance through the WEA Trust (which is the state teachers union’s company). When our bill passes, these school districts can opt to switch into the state plan and save $68 million per year. Those savings could be used to pay for more teachers and put more money into the classroom to help our kids.
Some have also suggested that Wisconsin raise taxes on corporations and people with high incomes. Well—Governor Doyle and the Legislature did that: two years ago. In fact they passed a budget‐repair bill (in just one day, mind you) that included a billion‐dollar tax increase.
Instead of raising taxes, we need to control government spending to balance our budget.
Two years ago, many of the same Senate Democrats who are hiding out in another state approved a biennial budget that not only included higher taxes—it included more than two billion dollars in one‐time federal stimulus aid.
That money was supposed to be for one‐time costs for things like roads and bridges. Instead, they used it as a short‐term fix to balance the last state budget. Not surprisingly, the state now faces a deficit for the remainder of this fiscal year and a 3.6 billion dollar hole for the budget starting July 1st.
What we need now more than ever, is a commitment to the future.
As more and more protesters come in from Nevada, Chicago and elsewhere, I am not going to allow their voices to overwhelm the voices of the millions of taxpayers from across the state who think we’re doing the right thing. This is a decision that Wisconsin will make.
Fundamentally, that’s what we were elected to do. Make tough decisions. Whether we like the outcome or not, our democratic institutions call for us to participate. That is why I am asking the missing Senators to come back to work.
Do the job you were elected to do. You don’t have to like the outcome, or even vote yes, but as part of the world’s greatest democracy, you should be here, in Madison, at the Capitol.
The missing Senate Democrats must know that their failure to come to work will lead to dire consequences very soon. Failure to act on this budget repair bill means (at least) 15 hundred state employees will be laid off before the end of June. If there is no agreement by July 1st, another 5‐6 thousand state workers—as well as 5‐6 thousand local government employees would be also laid off.
But, there is a way to avoid these layoffs and other cuts. The 14 State Senators who are staying outside of Wisconsin as we speak can come home and do their job.
We are broke because time and time again politicians of both parties ran from the tough decisions and punted them down the road for another day. We can no longer do that, because, you see, what we’re really talking about today is our future.
The future of my children, of your children, of the children of the single mother from Wausau that I mentioned earlier.
Like you, I want my two sons to grow up in a state at least as great as the Wisconsin I grew up in.
More than 162 years ago, our ancestors approved Wisconsin’s constitution. They believed in the power of hard work and determination and they envisioned a new state with limitless potential.
Our founders were pretty smart. They understood that it is through frugality and moderation in government that we will see freedom and prosperity for our people.
Now is our time to once again seize that potential. We will do so at this turning point in our state’s history by restoring fiscal responsibility that fosters prosperity for today—and for future generations.
Thank you for joining me tonight. May God richly bless you and your family and may God continue to bless the great State of Wisconsin.