Monday, February 21, 2011

What's at Stake in Wisconsin's Budget Battle

Who's in charge of our political system—voters or unions?


This week President Obama was roundly criticized, even by many of his allies, for submitting a federal budget that actually increases our already crushing deficit. But that didn't stop him Thursday from jumping into Wisconsin's titanic budget battle. He accused the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, of launching an "assault" on unions with his emergency legislation aimed at cutting the state budget.

The real assault this week was led by Organizing for America, the successor to President's Obama's 2008 campaign organization. It helped fill buses of protesters who flooded the state capital of Madison and ran 15 phone banks urging people to call state legislators.

Mr. Walker's proposals are hardly revolutionary. Facing a $137 million budget deficit, he has decided to try to avoid laying off 5,500 state workers by proposing that they contribute 5.8% of their income towards their pensions and 12.6% towards health insurance. That's roughly the national average for public pension payments, and it is less than half the national average of what government workers contribute to health care. Mr. Walker also wants to limit the power of public-employee unions to negotiate contracts and work rules—something that 24 states already limit or ban.

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