Gov. Scott Walker delivered a passionate defense of Wisconsin’s reforms at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday night. The embattled Republican governor used his keynote speech at CPAC to outline what’s at stake in Wisconsin and other states if his budget reforms are rolled back.
“Our most powerful tool is the truth,” Walker told an excited crowd of conservatives, who gave him two standing ovations. He defended his actions as courageous with labor unions mounting a recall campaign to remove him from office. Unions have already financed recall efforts against state senators, losing four of the six campaigns they ran against incumbent Republicans.
Walker said unions are motivated because of the reforms he and the legislature put in place shortly after he took office in 2011. They encompassed a range of issues — tax incentives for job creators, regulatory relief, tort reform and new options for health savings accounts — but the most controversial addressed government unions.
Walker reformed the collective bargaining system in Wisconsin, empowering state and local governments to address budget deficits by asking government employees to make a 5.8% pension contribution (about the national average) and 12.6% health insurance contribution (about half the national average).
“Collective bargaining is not a right,” Walker said. “In the public sector, collective bargaining is an expensive entitlement.”
Walker said his changes have saved jobs in schools. Just one example is the Kaukauna School District in eastern Wiscsonsin, which turned a $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus, according to the state’s reform and results website. More teachers were hired in Kaukauna, allowing the district to lower classroom sizes and use the surplus for merit pay.
“Our reforms end seniority and tenure,” Walker said, noting that talented young teachers no longer face the threat of layoffs simply because they were the last hired. “We can put the best and brightest in our classrooms — and we can keep them there.”
In addition to having a notable impact on school districts, Walker said the reforms enacted last year have transformed the entire business climate in the state. Walked cited a survey from 2010 revealing that just 10 percent of businesses thought Wisconsin was headed in the right direction. That number rose to 94 percent this year.
“We thought more about the next generation than the next election,” Walker said.
>> Last year Heritage interviewed Walker about his reforms. Here’s the seven-minute interview: