Capitol in Crisis: Walker calls for passage of Budget Repair Bill in his "Fireside Chat"

The governor says he respects people who chose a career in government, and that the Budget Repair Bill isn't aimed at state workers or a battle with unions.

Opponents say he has a funny way of showing that.

Governor Walker says the Budget Repair Bill is about protecting taxpayers and families. He talked about giving a voice to workers in several parts of the state, and evening the playing field.

“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.” Walker said.

Walker says those rights come from Wisconsin's civil service system, which won't go away.

For the second time in as many days, he threatened massive layoffs of state workers.

“Failure to act on this budget repair bill means at least 1,500 state employees will be laid off before the end of June,” Walker said. “If there is no agreement by July 1, another five to 6,000 state workers, as well as five to 6,000 local government employees would be also laid off."

“He's blowing smoke. That's absolutely false,” said Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma).

She says the message she heard Tuesday is that Walker needs to decimate workers’ rights in the state because he needs to balance the budget, and called it familiar.

She says she believes he's lying about why he wants to strip most state workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.

“There has to be something more,” she said. “There's another reason why he wants those rights, because, as far as the financial issues are concerned, they've all been taken care of."

Eau Claire teachers union president Ron Martin says he believes the layoffs are coming, whether the bill passes or not.

He calls it the route the governor is going on right now.

“When we start laying off, we're going to have to start to eliminate some of our arts programs,” he said. “I can't imagine that athletics will continue to be a part of a district's budget, or any of those extra-curriculars.”

Senator Terry Moulton (R-Eau Claire County) says individual school boards will have to decide where their priorities are. He says he won't know about future cuts until the budget is released.

“I thought governor walker laid it out pretty good,” he said. “I think he painted the picture that we are in a dire financial situation and we need to act on this and, overall, I thought his message was good.”

Senator Moulton says because of the situation the state is in, passing the bill is the best choice lawmakers have.

Senator Vinehout says she's not sure how much time senate Democrats will spend out-of-state, but she says once the collective bargaining provision is removed, they'll be back.


Here is the complete transcript of Walker's speech. You can find the Democratic Response by clicking on the link above.

Good evening.

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.

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  • by Rick Location: Altoona on Feb 23, 2011 at 07:19 PM
    Why are the Democrats who left the state not fired? They should be, they walked off the job. Who is paying for the hotel and lodging while those legislators are out of state?
  • by Ed Location: Chippewa falls on Feb 23, 2011 at 07:03 PM
    Governor Walker is just trying to make a name for himself nationally as he destroys Wisconsin schools and economy.
  • by Lu Location: Marshfield on Feb 23, 2011 at 03:24 PM
    What more can the governor want--they agreed to paying more for their Health Insurance and Pension. What does Collective Bargaining have to do with that? I've never belonged to a union, but I fought for one every time they tried to get it in at my place of employment, and always the place could come up with benefits we didn't have before, so people wouldn't vote it in. We have paid dearly for that. As well, people are not thinking about who are the Government employees. Many of them don't make alot of money, and they can't afford to pay the increases they are asking without it really hurting them. Some are barely above poverty level. Should we add more people to medicaid? They never seem to do anything at a declining level, so those who don't make as much, would not have to pay as much. If Collective Bargaining goes away, it won't come back without the same struggles and death when it first started. BE decent Governor Walker, now you are just vindictive.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 23, 2011 at 01:49 PM
    I want to say "YAY" for Govenor Walker, there was such a mess left by hmmmm can't remember the mans name you know the one who used to run Wisconsin in the hole, well its time for a change, "I am considered lower class and I contribute towards my own 401k an I also pay for my insurance, so why shouldn't the state workers???? They sure make more than me, maybe they need to learn to live like the rest of us and not off the sweat of hard work we all do to make ends meet, I know many a state worker who brag about how they use the state pones to call family and friends whenever they are bored at work, cause they don't have anything to do, you all know who you are and you give the rest of the hard working state employees a bad name, do I feel sorry for you no, should I, no. Grow up people we are in a recession, we all need to do our part to recoup and carry on. His name is Tommy Thompson. He put this state at a deficit of 3.2 billion when he left Madison after inheriting a surplus from Earl.
  • by pam on Feb 23, 2011 at 01:23 PM
    I would like to know if the governer and any other elected officials are paying into there retirement and paying for his health insurance. I think this is where we could save alot more money this way. Why is it when you get elected you are geting these two things for free for LIFE.
  • by Altoona Resident Location: Altoona on Feb 23, 2011 at 12:13 PM
    Well said Rob! Union bosses don't give a royal rip about kids or teachers...only their union dues!
  • by Anonymous on Feb 23, 2011 at 11:06 AM
  • by Larry Location: 54740 on Feb 23, 2011 at 09:45 AM
    carol, carol, carol, how can you be so overtly obvious that you are a teacher, teacher's pet or a union employee??? Back to 3rd world countries??? Get real, no child labor laws?...the unions had nothing to do with child labor laws! Our Grandfathers never fought for a union, they too were scammed by the unions. Either you are scamming us or you have been so duped you cannot see the truth around you, or...?? Anyone who exaggerates this much will only looked at as a fool. But, isn't that the only way you can argue about this?
  • by Steven Location: Eau Claire on Feb 23, 2011 at 09:39 AM
    Has anyone thought that this bill (and the passage of it) does not necessarily have to be a "forever" thing? Right now the economy is not doing very well (to put it mildly). The bill being put forth helps address the budget in a down economy. Let's say in 4 to 8 years from now the economy is better and private sector employees are making a lot more and getting a lot better benefits from their employers. Yes, private sector employers will do that to keep their employees when there are more good jobs than people to fill them. Government employees will either leave for those jobs or will have their legislators at that time change this law to allow for bargaining on their benefits. Because of this proposed law this still will have been able to negotiate higher salaries. Laws can (and do) change based on the social and economic times in which they are debated.
  • by me Location: here on Feb 23, 2011 at 09:19 AM
    Way to go Scwalker. Lets add more people to the lower class. Try implementing a 15% contribution for healthcare costs on any state employee making over 100k/ year and 100% employee contribution to their retirement.
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