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Walker targets wages and benefits

By Matt Pommer

Republican gubernatorial front-runner Scott Walker is vowing to cut state employee wages and benefits to help reduce state taxes on the wealthy.

State employees already are feeling a pinch – all are being required to take eight days of unpaid furloughs in each year of the current biennium. That adds up to about a 3 percent reduction in pay.

“There are just benefits that are woefully out of balance” with the private sector, Milwaukee County Executive Walker told reporters.

Direct salaries totaled $3.6 billion or almost 59 percent of the $5.2 billion in annual compensation costs for state workers, according to the latest report by the state controller’s office. Health insurance costs $731 million, according to the report. Pension costs, including payments on pension obligation bonds, totaled $504 million, the report indicted.

One option to reduce personnel costs would be to require state employees to pay half of the annual pension contribution. That would shift about $252 million to the workers. Across the state about 97 percent of pension contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System are paid by state and local governments. Local government workers will be interested spectators.

Other fringe costs include unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, life insurance, and wage continuation insurance. But those are tiny issues compared with pensions and health insurance.

Walker said he wants to cut the wages and benefits so the state can restore a 60 percent capital gains exemption and eliminate the new 7.75 percent tax on income above $300,000 for married couples and $150,000 for single taxpayers. Wisconsin’s capital gains exemption (which reduces tax liability) would again be the highest in the nation among states with an individual income tax.

Those two tax increases are expected to raise $278.5 million this year, helping balance the state budget, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

To pick up enough from state workers using only pay reductions, Walker would need to cut state employee salaries by 7.5 percent across the board. That would be on top of the 3 percent being saved by the current furlough days.

A Republican gubernatorial candidate vowing to slash state employee compensation could affect numerous legislative races in 2010.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.


  1. The discussion of state expenses should be more focused on what services the taxpayers are demanding rather than scapegoating the people who provide them. If you want to cut expenses, cut services.

    The services you do end up demanding are only going to be delivered effectively and efficiently if you have good people doing the work. If you want good people, you need to pay a competitive wage.

    Why is it that “You get what you pay for” only seems to get applied to upper management talent and linebackers? If you’re unhappy with the performance of your government workers (and you probably should be), the answer might have something to do with that little truism.

    My answer? Hire fewer people – pay them better. Better to have 3 lions than 6 sheep.

    Now cut management down. Good people don’t need to be so tightly supervised.

    Still not enough? Find something more we can live without and drop it. Walker’s answer – cutting wages and bennies – is only going to chase good people out of government.

  2. Calculated Layoffs to those who do not meet productivity standards would be much better than an overall paycut. Also reduce or eliminate any unneccessary divisions of state government as we cannot afford to sustain extra projects during these meger times. Do not penalize the hard working honest state employee that gives service to this state protecting and providing for the people in this state, there will just be an even lesser quality product from the workers and that will effect everyone who lives here in Wisconsin personally.

  3. It always seems that they start chopping at the wrong end of the totem pole! Start with cutting from the top for a change and leave the working man alone! Start by cutting out benefits that people don’t pay for but receive, ie.. welfare, food stamps, free medical. Start by cutting out the unnecessaries, ie.. State owned vehicles that are used for personal use, Limos, First Class Airline tickets and Private flights. All of these are tax payer financed but not needed. Cut the Governers salary by 15 or 20 percent. Let these that run the State feel the pinch as well! Maybe if the do feel it, they will come up with better ideas to fix it rather than go into the trick bag of old and stick it to the middle class!

  4. I presume as Milw Co. Exec he is receiving these same benefits and so he is willing to kick in his share. I also presume that state workers includes our elected representatives. That should be interesting.

  5. If working in the State Prison System is so great, why aren’t more people pounding down the door to get in? There sure is no shortage of criminals to watch though. Neither I, nor my co-workers, made health care costs rise, but he still want us to pay more for it? I bet Mr. Walker wouldn’t feel that way walking the halls as an officer. This is typical. They always want the little people to take the hit, but I agree with the others. If the Legislature would also abide by their own cuts and reductions they may see things differently. They call us \Screws\ at work. Screwed by the inmate, screwed by the Supervisor, screwed by the Administration, and now screwed by the people if they end up voting him in office. You can’t balance a budget on the backs of the blue collared.

  6. Walker BETTER open his eyes and FAST! Yes SOME cuts need to be made. BUT not an across the board slice like he suggests. The benefits that he wants to cut are the only thing that brings the average state worker’s total wage value up to par with the private sector. Most state wworkers bring down an annual salary of under thirty thousand sollars a year, cut the bennies and they wont be able to live on the wage they get. Had our Socialist governor not run business out of Wisconsin, our tax base would be able to support the load, including the wasteful spending, such as the despoiler Doyle flying first class to china on our dime instead of staying here and doing his job, otr trying to replace a fully serviceable Hoan Bridge on 794 with a surface road and drawbridge using stimulus money that SHOULD be going to develop private business, or using stimulus money meant to deveelop private business to repair the interstate because he used the federal funds meant to maintain the interstate for something else, or not completeing 794 to the state line, even though the corridor exists and has for decades… Damn I’m seeing a theme here… it’s all coming down to stimulating private business and getting rid of the person who has not been doing his job, not taking the money from state employees that feeds their children. Wake up Walker, it’s called eliminate waste not peoples only means of support!

  7. Wow, Robin Hood in reverse. Take it from those who can afford it least, and give it those who don’t need it. Radical.

  8. God forbid if Walker is elected as Wisconsin’s next governor. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to vote for someone with such radicals views, proposals and ideas. His proposals would do nothing to help solve the dilemmas we as a state are currently facing. They would only send Wisconsin’s economy into an even more rapidly moving, spiraling, downhill direction. Why is it that Republican officials always want to stick it to the average middle-class state employee who makes meager wages while still expecting to continue enjoying/receiving all the exorbitant, unnecessary perks they currently have? It seems to me that things are already a way out of balance. How about requiring those who receive assistance such as food stamps, welfare, free medical care, etc. to undergo/pass drug tests before receiving their assistance. Next eliminate the waste on the top end first. This would be an honest, fair approach that would please the majority of Wisconsin’s average, middle-class citizens. I think Mr. Walker would be flabbergasted by the overwhelming support those steps would generate from the general public.

  9. I think I have what could be a winning campaign slogan for the candidate!

    “Walker for Governor… because we all know what great shape Milwaukee County is in!”

  10. Instead of eye balling the state employees wages and wanting to take us off at the knees why don’t we start eye balling the legislative branch and figure out just how much money these people are making. I say full disclosure is a two way street. you want to nickel and dime the state employee thats fine then lets figure out the percentage these legislative people are giving up to balance the budget. Oh thats right they don’t have to disclose those figures.

  11. I work for the state….there are soooo many uneeded employees…..but then the state waste money trying to get people back into a job they abandoned for 6 months! The managment wants to fire bad workers but they can’t because of the union and you can’t promote the good workers so you end up with a **** workforce. I make less than $30K but there are so many people that make WELL over $150-200K a year at the university. Start at the top…..I need that extra $3000 a year to pay for house hold stuff. I think the people making $200K a year can afford to lose what would equal my salary and be JUST fine. What about the WASTE in the governement….have a random outsider off the street come in a look through the governments spending and I am SURE they will find a LOT of wasted money. Stop paying for people to live on welfare….stop giving them money ans they will find a job real quick.

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