Point Counter-Point: Walker’s budget: Who’s going to budge first?

A budget repair solution

Those who take issue with what Gov. Scott Walker has proposed regarding unions should remember elections have consequences. There was an election last November and Walker and Republicans took control of the state government. Winning gave them the power to enact laws like what they have proposed.

What they have proposed is requiring state employees to contribute 50 percent of their annual pension payments, higher contributions to health care programs and limiting collective bargaining to wages only. It all adds up to approximately an 8 percent reduction in pay.

Walker has said that if his proposals are not enacted, he will be forced to lay off thousands of state workers, including teachers.

The proposal to limit collective bargaining is what prompted protests at the State Capitol in Madison. The protests have brought a national spotlight and not in a necessarily good way. The concept of teachers “calling in sick” to go protest is unconscionable. Schools had to close as a result. The people who are responsible for educating future generations were more concerned with a political fight than doing their job. There were doctors signing sick notes on the streets of Madison. At least be more subtle. If you call in sick, you stay home. Calling in sick means you don’t do anything but sit on the couch eating soup and watching daytime TV. There are other methods of protesting, like using the weekend instead.

The point being educators do not appear to care about educating by doing what they are doing. If the choice is between teachers being paid less and classrooms having 60 students, I would take the former. If the protestors refuse to yield any ground, the latter will be the result. Educators have a major bargaining chip they are failing to use.

Gov. Walker is rumored to be proposing $900 million in cuts to education funding for his 2011-13 budget. If teachers really cared about education, they would ask for reductions in these cuts in exchange for giving up collective bargaining.

Intent to crush unions

Much of the public uproar over Scott Walker’s budget repair bill has focused around the stripping of collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. These unions, according to Walker, are leeches to taxpayers.

In 1993, Wisconsin passed the Qualified Economic Offer, limiting pay and benefit increases for K-12 teachers to a combined 3.8 percent. Because of rising health insurance costs, teachers have opted for benefit increases. Adjusted for inflation, teacher salaries in Wisconsin dropped 6.8 percent from 1997-2007. So when legislators rail against out-of-control teacher benefits, remember that these benefits have come at the cost of less pay.

However, teachers and other public employees are again being asked bear the burden of Wisconsin’s fiscal mess; and they have answered the call. Unions have agreed to pay more towards benefits and pensions.
It’s true that even with Walker’s cuts, teachers and public employees would still have a good deal on benefits and pensions. However, in order to receive these benefits, teachers have been taking smaller paychecks. Public employees would take about a 10 percent drop in overall income, while having any raises limited to the cost of inflation.

The bill would gut collective bargaining, leaving it intact only for wages. Teachers would lose input in class sizes, curriculum, safety conditions and other factors, as would most other state employees.

Yet, Walker insists that the same unions agreeing to a 10-freaking-percent pay cut are destroying our state’s finances.

He has rejected compromises which would retain collective bargaining rights while accepting his cuts. Wisconsin could have passed a bill saving, by Walker’s math, $30 million. However, Walker is so intent on crippling unions that he rejects concessions. This is no longer about the budget, but about Scott Walker’s ego. He was elected to balance the state’s budget, not become the next notorious Republican governor. Teachers and public employees are willing to sacrifice for the good of the state. Scott Walker is not.

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