EDITOR'S NOTE: U.S. senators Scott Brown and John Kerry, Mass. 3rd Congressional District Rep. James McGovern, state Sen. Karen Spilka and state Rep. Carolyn Dykema were asked by the Hopkinton Patch in March to comment on the Wisconsin legislature's modification of that state's collective-bargaining agreement with state workers. This is Sen. Brown's response. The Hopkinton Patch thanks the Senator for his thoughtfulness and attention.
Like many other states in this economic climate, Wisconsin began the new fiscal year with a looming budget deficit.
Specifically, with a $3.6 million deficit over the next two years, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed, among other budget cuts, to restrict collective bargaining for public employee unions for any purposes other than to bargain wages.
Furthermore, the same public employees would have to incur an increase in contributions to their health-care and pension plans.
These collective bargaining restrictions would not affect public safety employees, such as police officers or firefighters.
Gov. Walker stated that without these changes to Wisconsin public employee collective bargaining, he would be forced to lay off 1,500 state employees to produce the necessary budget cuts.
In his (March 10) Wall Street Journal op-ed, Gov. Walker stated that his budget repair bill would save localities over $1.5 billion.
Public reaction to these proposals has been passionate on both sides. Tens of thousands of union members and Wisconsin citizens flooded Madison to voice their opinions.
Members of the Wisconsin State Senate relocated to Indiana in order to prevent a necessary 20-member quorum in the Republican-held chamber.
As the first state to allow unions in 1959, Wisconsin has a long history with public employee unions.
On March 11, 2011, Gov. Walker signed the budget-repair legislation, having passed the Wisconsin Senate by a 18-1 vote and the Wisconsin Assembly by a vote of 53-42.
I believe the people of Wisconsin elected a governor and legislature to work together to do the people’s business and get their fiscal house in order.
Everything needs to be on the table as our states and country work to remain competitive during these challenging economic times.
As a former state legislator, I recognize the challenges that come with trying to balance a state’s budget and the difficult decisions that must be made with the resources available.
However, as a 25-year union member, I also believe that unions play an important role in our society. Ultimately, the decision was up to the state legislature and the governor, and they are accountable to the people of Wisconsin.
Should readers have any comments or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me or visit my website at www.scottbrown.senate.gov.
- Scott P. Brown, United States Senator