March 02, 2011 | 07:44 AMGov. Scott Walker and I were sent to Madison to get spending under control by balancing the budget, without raising taxes. Although the Governor's Budget Repair Bill has been controversial, there is no question that the bill accomplishes these goals.
With Senate Democrats going into hiding, Assembly Democrats keeping us on the floor for over 60 hours straight, and thousands of out-of-state protestors packing the Capitol building, our democratic process in Wisconsin looked like it had been put on hold.
Despite these obstacles, the State Assembly took clear and decisive action on Friday morning by passing Gov. Walker's bill. I cast my vote in favor of the bill.
Wisconsin not only has a $137 million immediate shortfall, but also faces a very steep budget deficit of $3.6 billion over the next biennium.
The deficit is a result of poor budgeting practices of the previous state budgets that used one-time federal funds to fund ongoing programs, raided segregated funds, and increased spending beyond the taxpayers' ability to pay. This plan offers the bold solutions to break the status quo and bring Wisconsin back to prosperity.
The main, and most controversial, provisions in the budget repair bill include making state and local employees pay more toward their benefits and limiting certain collective bargaining rights. Currently, many public employees pay nearly nothing toward their pensions. This bill would require public employees to contribute 5.8 percent toward pension plans, along with at least 12.6% of their health insurance premiums — still only half of what the average private sector worker pays.
It is estimated that this will save local municipalities and school districts more than $700 million every year.
The bill would also limit collective bargaining rights over benefits of certain public employees. The elimination of collective bargaining is a much-needed tool for local governments in the future. With further budget cuts coming in the near future to close the $3.6 billion gap, local municipalities and school boards will need the collective bargaining reforms in this bill to balance their budgets without raising taxes.
I do want to be clear: this is not meant to be the "assault" on teachers or government employees as many Madison protesters would like you to believe.
As a product of our local public school system, I know how important our local teachers are to our community. I am proud that our local school districts have not seen the "sick-outs" that the Madison and Milwaukee area school districts have experienced.
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No one said this was going to be easy. When a community is in hardship, everyone must come together.
I will be leading by example by increasing my contributions to my benefits to match that of what we are asking from other government employees.
By finally balancing the budget and reigning in government spending and taxes, we can get our state back on the road to fiscal recovery. It is a big step in a series of actions designed to get Wisconsin working again.