Battle in Wisconsin over public-sector unions set to spread to other states

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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MADISON, Wisc. – Conservatives expect Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker to wrap up his state’s budget debate this week. But the budget clash that erupted in Wisconsin which pitted public-sector unions and their supporters against fiscal conservatives represented by the Tea Party movement may signify the beginning of a policy battle that will play out in states across the country.

“Let’s put it this way: the public-sector union bosses are a cancer that is eating away at the very foundation of this country,” said Ned Ryun of the Tea Party group American Majority. “The Tea Partiers are coming out and facing these public sector unions head on.”

What has unions so riled up is that Republican governors around the country are gearing up to take on public-sector union benefits in the process of fixing their state’s fiscal condition. Walker’s budget, for instance, proposes eliminating collective bargaining privileges for the state’s public-sector employees when it comes to their health benefit and pension plans. Public-sector employees, however, would still be allowed to collectively bargain on their salaries.

Walker is also seeking to get those public-sector employees to pay for more of their own benefits. Under his plan, they’d pay about 12.6 percent of their health care plans, instead of the about 6 percent they currently pay. Also, Walker’s budget calls for public-sector employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pension plans. Currently, some pay nothing while others contribute negligible amounts. From 2000 to 2009, public sector employees in Wisconsin paid $55.4 million into a pension system that cost $12.6 billion.

Both Ned Ryun and his brother Drew Ryun are gearing American Majority up to be able to help the states that are expected to follow in Wisconsin’s footsteps, if local conservative groups need the help. Next up, they say, is Ohio. After that, they said to expect policy battles against public-sector unions in Pennsylvania, Florida and then maybe even New York. New York would be an interesting win for the Tea Party movement because the governor there, Andrew Cuomo, is a Democrat.

Ned Ryun, who was on the ground in Madison organizing American Majority’s Tea Party movement counter-protest, told TheDC that he was amazed that 10,000 grassroots conservatives got to Madison in such a short timeframe to show on-the-ground support for Walker. He believes it is a sign that the American people like what the Tea Party movement stands for.

“We announced the rally just 48 hours beforehand and 10,000 people showed up,” Ned Ryun said in an interview. “I thought it was just a fantastic show of support for these guys.”

Likely 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain called the battle in Wisconsin “Ground Zero” for everything that’s likely to happen in other statehouses around the country – and that he expects other governors to follow Walker’s lead.

“Wisconsin is Ground Zero for the rest of the nation,” Cain said in his speech at the Tea Party counter-union protest on Saturday. “And, we the representative majority, will not be intimidated.”

Wisconsin’s state Senate majority leader, Republican Scott Fitzgerald, told TheDC that his message to other Republican legislatures and governors around the country is that they’ll “have to stick to their guns,” as the public-sector labor unions will come out in force to oppose reform in their state as well.

“If they’re going to be able to fix the financial crisis that those states are in, just as Wisconsin is, you have to be able to give the flexibility to the local levels of government, if, in fact, you’re going to reduce their revenues,” Fitzgerald said.