By Kevin Lee Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Local officials are concerned about Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to reduce collective bargaining rights for public employees, unsure whether the proposal will help their economic prospects.
The governor wants collective bargaining limited to wages as part of his budget adjustment bill, which has lead to tens of thousands of union supporters protesting the Capitol over the last week.
Public employees would have to contribute 5.8 percent of their wages to their retirement plans and 12.6 percent to their health care plans. Most state employees contribute a nominal amount to their pensions and about 6 percent to their health care.
The Walker administration is grappling with a $3.6 billion budget deficit over the next two years, and will outline his approach to lawmakers and the public on Tuesday.
La Crosse County Board member Tara Johnson said local officials should know what they are facing before such drastic labor changes are implemented.
“He wants to do this damage (to collective bargaining) now and then (he wants) to tell you how bad it’s going to get in the next two-year budget,” she said.
Walker is adamant in his push to restrict collective bargaining, saying that local governments need the flexibility to manage their budgets without lengthy and sometimes contentious negotiation processes.
“The savings that we get only when we pass this budget repair bill for local governments will exceed the reduction in state aid that will be included in our budget bill,” he said.
Walker reported that the budget repair bill could save local governments $724 million per year, but did not specify how he arrived at that figure.
The governor has already indicated that over the next two years, hundreds of millions of dollars could be cut out of revenue shared with local governments in order to help lessen the state’s $3.6 billion deficit.
Local officials say they are used to planning their city or county budgets with continued reductions in spending, but they are not sure what scale of cuts the governor has in mind.
Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris is concerned that local governments could lose out on federal money meant to help fund bus systems.
According to a memo from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau:
“(Federal labor law) requires the continuation of collective bargaining rights, and protection of transit employees’ wages, working conditions, pension benefits, seniority, vacation, sick and personal leave, travel passes, and other conditions of employment.”
If collective bargaining rights are eroded, local government in Wisconsin could lose out on $46.6 million in transit funds, according to bureau.
The memo also states that federal law “requires the continuation of any collective bargaining rights that were in place when the employer started receiving federal funds.”
“(The federal government) requires that workers of the bus system have collective bargaining rights that are essentially stripped as part of this (budget adjustment) bill,” Harris said.
Eau Claire City Manager Mike Huggins said local officials are stuck in a waiting game with the budget adjustment proposal and the much bigger two-year budget Walker will preview next week.
“One of the concerns is what’s going to be in the budget bill? What is the cut in shared revenue (from state government to local government)?” he asked. “The challenge for us really is knowing when that other boot falls, so to speak.”