Why the Wisconsin hype? Details of the bill show it may not be all that bad

Public sector union bosses in Wisconsin are saying newly elected Gov. Scott Walker’s budget — designed to combat the state’s large and rapidly growing deficit — isn’t fair to their workers. Wisconsin Senate Democrats turned their backs on the controversy on Thursday, fleeing to avoid a vote. But the details of the governor’s bill have largely been overshadowed by the drama of the debates and protests.

Walker’s proposal, which is part of his plan to address the $137 million deficit in Wisconsin’s current budget and projected $3.6 billion shortfall over the next two years, would allow public sector unions many of the collective bargaining privileges they enjoy now.

Some key points:

  • Public sector employees would still be allowed to collectively bargain on wages, but not on health-care or pension plans.
  • Raises would be tied to the inflation rate, unless the state’s voters deemed the employees worthy of larger raises.
  • Public sector employees would have to pay slightly higher rates for their health care and other benefits, but those rates would remain lower than those of the average private sector employee.
  • Public sector employees would be required to pay 12.6 percent of their health-care premiums; they currently pay about 6 percent.
  • Public sector employees would have to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pensions under Walker’s plans; currently some pay nothing. From 2000 to 2009, public sector employees paid $55.4 million into a pension system that cost $12.6 billion.
  • Police, firefighters and other public safety workers would be exempt from the new collective bargaining restrictions.

Walker promised not to lay off or furlough any of the 170,000 government employees in the state, saying about 5,500 state jobs and 5,000 local jobs would be saved if the unions give in to this plan.