For Immediate Release Contact: Rep. Kathy Bernier
February 28, 2011 (608) 266-9172
Representative Bernier Column Regarding Budget Repair Bill
There can be no doubt that our state is in a severe financial crisis. We are facing a $137 million deficit in the current fiscal year and a $3.6 billion shortfall is looming over us in the next biennium. Action must be taken, and Wisconsin residents simply cannot afford to pay higher taxes to pay for this deficit.
The Budget Repair Bill was passed by the State Assembly last week. I believe this was essential to avoid serious consequences in our state. As many as 1,500 state workers could be laid off by June and another 6,000 by the end of the biennium. Nearly 200,000 children could lose their medical coverage. These are not acceptable alternatives. This is about putting our state on track to actually dealing with our budget crisis instead of pushing it ahead for future generations.
Public employees will be asked to contribute 5.8% of their pay to their pensions and 12.6% of the cost of their health insurance premiums and will still be able to form unions and collectively bargain for wages. This bill does not dismantle public unions, but does amend what kinds of bargaining can be done.
The cuts to shared revenue in the biennial budget bill will be deep. Local governments needs to have the flexibility to address these cuts and not be hampered by restrictive contracts bargained with public employee unions. This bill provides that flexibility while still allowing for the formation of public unions.
Public employees in Wisconsin will still enjoy one of the strongest civil service systems in the country. Among these protections are the accrual of leave benefits, civil service hiring practices, disciplinary processes and the assurance of a discrimination free workplace.
As I have stated before I did have a few issues with the initial bill, which I discussed with the Assembly leadership. These concerns included provisions regarding not providing LTEs (limited term employees) with benefits as well as including a grievance process. These concerns were addressed before final passage of the bill in the State Assembly and I ultimately chose to vote in favor of the legislation.
This bill was taken up in a transparent manner with a great deal of input from the public. The Joint Finance Committee heard 17 hours of testimony from Wisconsin residents and nearly 1,000 citizens shared their views by testifying in front of the committee. In addition we have seen thousands of Wisconsin citizens exercising their right of free speech at our State Capitol. The State Assembly floor session in which the budget repair bill was addressed lasted over 60 hours. According to the Legislative Reference Bureau they have no record of a longer session in the history of our state.
Finally, my office has met with, talked to and read e-mails from a great many constituents on both sides of the issue and I took into consideration all of these views before making my final decision. I understand that there were those who tried contacting my office and were unable to get through or have not received a response. I want to assure you that we are working hard to respond to the extremely large volume of contacts we have received and I sincerely apologize if you have had to wait to hear back from me on this issue.