Walker not counting on union savings this year
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker no longer expects to see the savings from forcing state workers to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits before the start of the next budget year in July.
Walker is supporting a bill circulated Tuesday in the Legislature by Republican lawmakers that doesn’t count on the state seeing $30 million in savings for this budget year, which ends June 30, through the concessions.
State workers have not yet been required to make the higher contributions since the law remains tied up in court, but the new levels could be applied retroactively if the law is enacted before July.
Teachers and state workers agreed to the concessions, which amount to an 8 percent pay cut on average, if they could retain their bargaining rights. But the bill, which passed in March after a monthlong fight that attracted tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol, both imposed the higher contributions and stripped most public employees of their ability to bargain collectively.
Walker argued that the proposal was needed in order to save the state money since it faced a $3.6 billion budget shortfall at the time. While the concessions amounted to $30 million this budget year, they are estimated to save the state $300 million over the life of Walker’s two-year budget.
The governor also counts on those savings, and the flexibility given to schools and local governments from no longer having to collectively bargain, to help deal with more than $1 billion in budget cuts.
Republican legislative leaders have said they will include the collective bargaining law in Walker’s budget when it’s debated next month if the courts haven’t ruled on its legality by then. The state Supreme Court is considering whether to take the case and has arguments scheduled for June 6.
But with new revenue projections earlier this month that show the state will collect $636 million more than originally planned, Walker can now afford to do without the $30 million in state worker concessions this year.
The bill, which is being circulated by Rep. Warren Petryk, R-Eleva, and Rep. Tom Larson, R-Colfax, also taps $235 million from the new revenue to repay money taken from a patients’ compensation fund to help balance the state budget in 2007. The state Supreme Court ruled that was an unconstitutional raid on the fund used to pay medical malpractice claims, and ordered the state to repay it.
The proposal also lowers by $80 million how much state agencies would have to cut by July. It moves up by one month some $147 million in payments to health care providers under the state’s Medicaid program in order to capture $23 million in a higher federal matching rate.
Walker said when he got word of the additional revenue that he supported using it first to repay the state’s debts, like the patients’ compensation fund, before anything else. Lobbyists and backers of various interests targeted for cuts in Walker’s budget — particularly public schools, which are slated to see a cut of more than 8 percent in state aid — have been advocating for using some of the new revenue to lessen the blow.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor supported the bill, which is being circulated separately from his budget proposal. That remains in the Joint Finance Committee, which hoped to complete its work next week.
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