Wisconsin Governor Leads While Legislators Skip Town

Feb 18, 2011

As the battle over S.B. 11 continues to rage in Wisconsin, some state legislators are setting a less-than-sterling example of dedication to public service.  Rather than fulfilling their basic responsibility to report for work and cast votes, 14 Senators have reportedly fled the state.

The uproar has been caused by Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to restore fiscal balance.  S.B. 11 aims to save the state more than $300 million over the next two years by requiring public sector union members to contribute to health care and retirement plans, among other provisions. The legislation exempts state troopers, local police and firefighters.

S.B. 11 would require public employees to pay an average of 5.8 percent of their salaries towards pensions and cover 12.6 percent of their health care premiums.  Employee contributions towards these benefits are routine in the private sector.  In addition, it would limit public sector wage rises to increases in the consumer price index, unless larger amounts were approved by referendum.  Other provisions include restricting collective bargaining to wages, setting contracts for one-year terms to give the state flexibility in managing costs, allowing public workers to vote annually on union representation and preventing public employers from withholding union dues from paychecks without a worker’s permission.

Union members and others have mobbed the state capitol — including many who are supposed to be working — and schools around the state have been closed for days (to the undoubted frustration and anger of working parents).  Picketers have reportedly targeted the homes of state legislators who support the bill in a shameful display of intimidation.

States around the country are facing large structural deficits, and many are realizing that public sector unions are not immune from scrutiny.  Governor Walker deserves credit for making some tough decisions about how to bring the budget into balance while providing the tax incentives that will power economic recovery.

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