MADISON, Wis., March 10 (UPI) -- The bill that would lower Wisconsin's $3.6 billion deficit helps assure future generations won't experience similar or worse situations, Gov. Scott Walker said.
"Our reform plan gives state and local governments the tools to balance the budget through reasonable benefit contributions," Walker, a Republican, said in a commentary published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal. "In total, our budget-repair bill saves local governments almost $1.5 billion, outweighing the reductions in state aid in our budget."
For weeks, demonstrators rallied at Wisconsin's Capitol in Madison to protest dramatic curbs in the collective bargaining process for public employees. Democratic senators fled the state to block consideration of the bill in the upper chamber, but Senate Republicans found a way to work around the absent Democrats and passed the bill Wednesday.
"While it might be a bold political move, the changes are modest," Walker wrote.
Among other things, the bill would require government workers to make a 5.8 percent contribution to their pensions and a 12.6 percent contribution to their health insurance premium, which union officials said workers were willing to do.
Employees don't want to lose their collective bargaining rights, leaders said.
He said his bill would reform hiring and firing process based on seniority by allowing school districts to assign staff based on merit and performance.
"The unions say they are ready to accept concessions, yet their actions speak louder than words," Walker said. "Over the past three weeks, local unions across the state have pursued contracts without new pension or health insurance contributions. Their rhetoric does not match their record on this issue."
The budget repair bill "is a commitment to the future so our children won't face even more dire consequences than we face today," Walker said, adding that good teachers who haven't built up seniority wouldn't be pink-slipped, either.
"Taking on the status quo is no easy task. Each day, there are protesters in and around our state Capitol. They have every right to be heard," he said. "But their voices cannot drown out the voices of the countless taxpayers who want us to balance our budgets and, more importantly, to make government work for each of them."