Here in Wisconsin, we are doing our part as well. When I took office in January 2011, our state faced a massive $3.6 billion budget deficit and a stark choice: We could raise taxes or lay off more than ten thousand middle-class government workers to close the gap, or we could reform the corrupt system of political cronyism and collective bargaining—in which union bosses collected involuntary dues from every government employee, and had effective veto power over any changes to their pay, benefits, or working conditions—that was driving our state into fiscal ruin.
We chose reform. The state legislature passed my budget repair bill, known as Act 10, that requires public workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pensions (up from zero for most) and to pay 12. 6 percent of their health insurance premiums (up from about 6 percent).
We ended collective bargaining for everything except base wages. We ended compulsory union membership, and stopped the forced collection of union dues—allowing teachers and other public workers to choose for the first time whether they wanted to join the union and pay dues. And we freed school districts from the stranglehold of collective bargaining rules—allowing them, for example, to buy health insurance on the open market and hire and fire teachers based on merit for the first time.
Today, thanks to these reforms, the $3. 6 billion deficit we inherited has turned into more than a half-billion-dollar surplus.12 School districts across Wisconsin have saved tens of millions of dollars—money they have used to offset state spending cuts and improve education, instead of laying off teachers. Property taxes dropped for the first time in over a decade. Unemployment is down. Our bond rating is solid. For the first time in state history, we set aside money in two consecutive years for the rainy day fund. And Wisconsin's pension system is the only one in the country that is fully funded.
Seems like common sense, right?
Well, the union bosses in Washington and Madison didn't see it that way. They understood that our reforms were the leading edge of a national grassroots movement for fiscal reform—a movement that is flying below the radar of the mainstream media, but which holds the hope for a bold conservative resurgence across America.
They understood the threat this grassroots movement posed to their entrenched interests. So they decided to fight back.
And they made Wisconsin ground zero in their counteroffensive.
Why did they pick Wisconsin to draw their line in the sand? In part, it was because of our state's "progressive" history. Wisconsin was the birthplace of public sector unions in 1936, and the first state to allow collective bargaining for government employees in 1959. If the union bosses could not stop collective bargaining reform in the state where collective bargaining began, they had little hope of stopping it anywhere.