Scott Walker’s history shows you he’s a tough guy. As Milwaukee County Executive, he cleaned up a political and fiscal mess left behind by his corrupt predecessor.
Prank Koch phone call aside, Walker ran a squeaky clean administration in Milwaukee. He returned a large portion of his pay and drives a 1998 Saturn. When Walker talks about fiscal responsibility, he starts at home. You might say he walks the talk.
When Walker won election, he felt there was more to go after. And, incorrectly, he has been positioned as being against public employees, and more specifically, teachers.
In a move that would remind you of the movie “Dave”, Walker looked at spending at the state level as a ledger only deal, looking at it line by line, trying to figure out how to save money.
At the heart of the issue is the health insurance premiums being paid on behalf of the teacher’s union. What most people aren’t being told is that those premiums are being paid to the Wisconsin Education Association Council’s insurance company, not the State of Wisconsin’s or a private insurance company. Independent audits show that the Wisconsin is overpaying by $73 million for insurance that could be bought privately.
Walker just can’t take his eye off that amount of money, and where that money’s going. That $73 million is not being used to teach kids, nor is it being used to pay for health care. It’s being used to pay salaries of union leadership and to fund political activities against people like Walker.
The reason Walker wants to take negotiating rights of the union away from benefits side is that he wants to regain control of runaway spending that is crippling the state. In Milwaukee, for every $100 spent on a teacher, only $56 of that is being spent in salary. This isn’t about teacher pay.
Understanding that health care costs are outstripping the ability of the state to pay, even without the $73 million of overpayments, and the open ended nature of pensions, with benefits being tied to years of service and not years of life, Walker sees this arena as the area that needs to be fixed immediately. Right now, he’s staring down a $4.9 billion unfunded liability.
Walker’s done a lousy job in the public relations battle. And, he’s up against politically savvy machines that are entrenched, fighting to save their livelihoods. They’ve figured out how to distill their disdain in short statements that fit nicely onto placards that make their way on TV. Before this is over, people will be convinced he killed Bambi.
There are 49 other governors who are secretly rooting for Walker to win this battle. There are no more stimulus dollars to help them balance their bloated budgets. This is the Normandy of government spending at the state level.
While I disagree with how he’s done it, I believe what he’s doing is necessary.