Why my fiscal reforms are necessary | submitted by Gov. Scott Walker

Editor’s note: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wrote this op-ed piece to run in The New York Times, but his office claims the Times declined to run it. We present it below and invite your comments.

In nearly every state across America, governors are facing major budget deficits. Many, Democrat and Republican alike, are cutting state aid to schools and other local governments – which will force massive layoffs, massive property tax increases, or both.

In Wisconsin, we are doing something progressive in the best sense of the word. We are implementing reforms to protect middle-class jobs and middle-class taxpayers. While our idea may be a bold political move, it is a very modest request of our employees.

We are reforming the bargaining system so our state and local governments can ask employees to contribute 5.8% for pension and 12.6% for health insurance premiums. These reforms will help them balance their budgets. In total, our reforms save local governments more than $700 million each year.

Most workers outside of government would love our proposal. Over the past several months, I have visited numerous factories and small businesses across Wisconsin. On these tours, workers tell me that they pay anywhere from 15% to 50% of their health insurance premium costs. The average middle-class worker is paying more than 20% of his or her premium.

Even federal employees pay more than twice what we are asking state and local government workers to pay, and most of them don’t have collective bargaining for wages or benefits. These facts beg the question as to why the protesters are in Wisconsin and not in Washington, D.C. By nearly any measure, our requests are quite reasonable.

Beyond helping to balance current and future budgets, our reforms will improve the quality of our governments. No longer will hiring and firing be done solely based on seniority and union contracts. Instead, schools – as well as state and local governments – will be able to make decisions based on merit and performance.

This concept works well in Indiana. In 2005, Gov. Mitch Daniels reformed collective bargaining. In turn, the government got more efficient, more effective, and more accountable to the public. Gov. Daniels even encouraged employees to come forward with ways to save taxpayer dollars and they responded. Eventually, the state was able to reward top performing employees. This is true reform – making government work for the people.

A recent columnist on these [New York Times] pages opined that “common problems deserve common solutions,” suggesting that Republicans and Democrats work together. In principle, that is a good idea.

Since January 3, we passed some of the most aggressive economic development legislation in the country. And on nearly every measure, many Democrats joined with all of the Republicans and an Independent to vote in favor of the various pieces of legislation. The Wisconsin legislature recognized that we are growing, not Republican or Democratic jobs, but Wisconsin jobs. Together, we worked to show that Wisconsin is open for business.

But sometimes, bi-partisanship is not so good. During several of the past budgets, members of both political parties raided segregated funds, used questionable accounting principles, and deferred tough decisions. This, along with the use of billions of dollars worth of one-time federal stimulus money for the budget two years ago, left Wisconsin with the current $3.6 billion deficit.

Our reforms allow us to take a new and better approach. Instead of avoiding the hard decisions and searching for short-term solutions, we make a commitment to the future. The choices we are making now in Wisconsin will make sure our children are not left picking up the pieces of the broken state budget left behind. Our reforms create the lowest structural deficit in recent history, ensuring our budget is stable for decades to come. These changes will give businesses the confidence they need to grow and invest in our state.

We live in the greatest nation on earth because, for more than 200 years, we’ve had leaders who cared more about their children and grandchildren than themselves. Having the courage to make decisions in the best interest of the next generation – despite external pressures – is a concept that America has always admired, but is forgetting today. My hope is that Wisconsin will remind the nation what makes our country great.

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