Both New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took office on January 1st of 2011. In their respective “State of the State” addresses:
Democratic Gov. Cuomo promised to take on the state’s huge financial problems stating “there is no more time to waste, it is time for deeds, not words, and results, not rhetoric. It is time for a bold agenda and immediate action. There is no tomorrow, and there are no more baby steps, my friends.” He also intends to approach his job with “constructive impatience, shrinking the size of the sprawling state government and represent the interests of those who have lost faith in Albany.”
Republican Gov. Walker promised to “right-size state government by ensuring government is only providing the essential services needed that taxpayers can afford. Priority number one, pass a series of reforms and unleash the power of economic freedom with strict adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue.”
Campaign rhetoric? Hardly, in the case of Governor Scott Walker. Every major aspect of his message has transformed state’s politics and practices yielding huge logical, and necessary changes across a wide spectrum of issues. In contrast, we have in office a liberal governor wrapped in ‘progressive’ cloth who (once the hype is discounted) has proven to be a divisive leader with little needed reform evident after six years in office.
Twenty-two day’s after taking office the state legislature approved a series of Walker-backed bills, the largest of which would cut taxes for businesses. Six months later, the legislature also approved the 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, “An act relating to: state finances, collective bargaining for public employees, compensation and fringe benefits, the state civil service system, and the Medical Assistance Program.”
Thirty specific topics listed to reduce a $3.6 billion budget deficit. Those getting primary attention were:
- Pension Contributions: State and local government workers (members of the Wisconsin Retirement System) would be required to contribute to their health care plans and pensions.
- Collective Bargaining: Limits bargaining, for most public employees to base wages, while letting school districts negotiate pay with individual teachers based on criteria other than years of service and education level.
- Voting: Requires unions to hold yearly votes to continue to represent workers while prohibiting, automatic dues deductions from pay checks.
On May 25, 2011, Governor Walker also signed into law Act 23 requiring all voters to show a government issued ID before casting a ballot.
In announcing these changes the governor stated “he was not trying to break up the public sector unions, noting that Wisconsin state government employees would retain the protections of civil service laws. He considers “asking employees to pay half of the national average for health care benefits a modest request.” He further added, “collective bargaining changes would save Wisconsin school districts an estimated $30 million. Quite a start for his first year in office.
Within days of approval, all hell would break loose at the state Capital. Union leaders were prepared to accept financial concessions, but would not agree to limitations of collective bargaining rights, all 14 Democratic senators fled the state to prevent passage of the bill, unfair labor practices were filed, court challenges issued and overturned, and after 17 brutal months of nonstop protests Governor Walker survived a recall election, the first to do so in U.S. history. In July of 2014, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Act 10 constitutional, and in March of 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the new stricter ID law.
While obviously not a panacea, Act 10’s collective bargaining reforms have allowed the state to balance the budget, while opening up employee’s health insurance to competitive bidding, and reducing long-term pension liabilities. Act 10 is one of the most successful public policy idea adopted in recent memory, and from a financial and common sense standpoint probably the most important change in the administration of any state government seen in decades.
Meanwhile, back here in New York ……..
For more information on how “Act 10 let schools pay teaches more, and learning increased,” read the WSJ “Opinion” article titled “Scott Walker’s School Bonus,” also shown on this web site.