Budget Battle: Walker In His Own Words

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MADISON - The Wisconsin State Legislature is poised to pass Governor Scott Walker's bill which would limit the level of negotiations public unions can make in collective bargaining when it comes to benefits.

Tens of thousands of protesters have converged on Madison and other places to voice their displeasure for the bill.

Newsradio 620 WTMJ's John Mercure and Erik Bilstad talked with Governor Walker, an interview which aired on Wisconsin's Afternoon News.

Below is a transcript of the first portion of that interview, word-for-word, in Walker's own words:

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Click here for school district closings

Related audio: Click on the links below to hear Newsradio 620 WTMJ "Wisconsin Afternoon News" exclusive interviews about the budget/union bill
Governor Scott Walker
Madison Democratic State Senator Jon Erpenbach
Madison Teachers Union Executive Director John Matthews

Mercure: "Many people are saying these are awfully drastic measures.  Why is this so necessary in your opinion for Wisconsin?"

Walker: "No doubt these are bold political moves, but when you ask workers all across the state outside of government, these are very modest requests. 

"I went to five different manufacturing plants around the state of Wisconsin on Tuesday, and the amazing thing is when I talked to workers there, middle class, blue collar, working class folks who put in a good day's work, they were pointing out time and time again how modest our requests were.  I went from companies where employees were paying 25% of their premiums up to 50% of their premiums for health care. 

"Many of the companies I went by like so many others across the state don't have pensions, and the 401k's they have over the last year or two, they've had to suspend the employer contribution. 

"So, not a lot of sympathy from these guys in private sector manufacturing companies who I think reflect a lot of the workers in the state who say what we're asking for is pretty modest.

"What we're asking for is a 5.8% contribution to the pension system, that's right about at the national average, and just over a 12.5% contribution for the premium for health care, which is half of the national average. 

"Those two things alone in the next budget for state workers will save us just over $300 million, and about 3 to 4 times that for local government.  To balance the budget with the $3.6 billion dollar defecit we have, we have to have these things in place."

Mercure: One of the things that I've heard from union leaders, one of the criticisms, is that you didn't try to negotiate with the unions first, you didn't try to sit down with them before unveiling this big plan.  How do you respond to that?

Walker: "It's exactly right, because we can't negotiate over a budget.  Under the law, if you're going to negotiate in good faith, you have to have something to offer.  We don't have anything to offer.  We're broke.  We've been broke in this state for years.

"Unfortunately, too many leaders have pushed it off to the future, and now it's time to come and pay the bills.  We're not alone.  Other than maybe 4 to 5 states across the country, states all across America are broke. 

"We just have the courage to stand up and point that out, and say 'This is what we're going to do with this budget to make sure that we're not passing it on to our children and our grandchildren.' 

"What we're doing is incredibly important, because to balance this year's budget, we can't wait. 

"The average amount of time to negotiate a contract at the state level over the past decade has taken about 15 months.  More importantly, because next Tuesday in our budget there are going to be cuts to state governement, to local government, to offset those cuts, and I know it well as a former local government official, those local governents, those school districts, those cities, counties, villages, so forth, have got to have the tools. 

"You can't pass it on a hope and a prayer that everyone of these individual unions are going to do that.  You've got to give them the tools to balance their budget.

"If not, we end up like New York and California, ironically two states with Democrats for governors, who cut billions and billions of dollars from schools, from higher education and from local governments without giving them any tools. 

"We didn't want to do that.  We want to keep the money in the classroom, keep the money in the public service, and be able to be in this together in a way that's very modest compared to what nearly everybody in the private sector is facing."