Walker victory a 'tipping point' in public sector union pension reform

WAUKESHA, Wisc. — Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Scott Walker???s ???walk through fire??? and triumph in the recall election Tuesday could well be an enhanced movement in other states behind limiting what state employees can expect in terms of benefits from the state.

The movement by labor unions that culminated in making Walker only the third governor in U.S. history to face recall from voters (and the only one to survive) began when he and the Republican controlled legislature passed Act Ten, which required many public employees in Wisconsin to pay for six percent of their pensions and 12 percent of their health care premiums.

Act Ten also ended collective bargaining for all benefits and work rules except salary for the same public employees — something more than a few observers here say was the key reason behind the labor-fueled drive that recalled two GOP state senators last year, almost recalled a state supreme court judge who had upheld the act, and put Walker on the ballot.

“If Walker had not pushed collective bargaining, the unions in all likelihood might have let it go, swallowed the pension reforms, and not pushed the recalls,” said one veteran Madison journalist, recalling how Wisconsin in 1959 became the first state to give collective bargaining rights to public employees.

Neighboring Illinois, which is wracked by a massive $83 billion pension system debt, could easily be the next battleground on the issue of pension reform.  With Democrats controlling the governorship and both houses of the legislature, state House GOP Leader Tom Cross was unable to get anywhere with his proposal for reducing cost-of-living increases in teacher retirement plans.  But Republicans are expected to make this a key issue in their fall campaign, when all 59 Senate seats and all 118 House seats are on the ballot.

The problem reform advocates will have in Illinois is that an estimated 96 percent of public employees are unionized — a sharp contrast to the rest of the country. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the ranks of public unions dropped dramatically. Members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees plunged by two thirds in recent years — from 22,300 to 7,100 — and the American Federation of Teachers has dropped from 17,000 to 6,000, reported the Journal.

Bob Williams, former Washington State legislator and now president of the Budget Solutions group that seeks answers to major problems in the states, has long called unfunded pension liabilities ???the dark cloud on the horizon of the states,??? totaling trillions of dollars.  Walker???s victory, he told Human Events, ???will accelerate the movement toward overhaul of the pension system that is just getting started in several states.???

???The results will give politicians across the country courage to address unsustainable spending by public sector unions,??? businessman Eric Hovde, a candidate for the GOP Senate nomination in Wisconsin, predicted to us. ???What Gov. Walker went through was the tipping point.???