Engaged voters and policymakers have a number of things to ponder after the dust settles in Tuesday’s historic Wisconsin election.
While Governor Scott Walker (R) easily survived the union-led effort to recall him, the real story may be how soundly the voters ratified Walker’s controversial policy changes. Walker ended collective bargaining over benefits and required government workers to contribute more toward their pensions and health benefits. He also let union members vote on re-electing their unions and made paying union dues voluntary.
Union leaders portrayed these policy changes as an attack on union members. But their members disagreed. Exit polls showed that Walker won 37 percent of the union household vote in 2010. Despite the push-back he has received from unions, he won 38 percent of union households’ votes in 2012. It seems rank-and-file union members are not as incensed about Walker as their leadership is.
Why did Walker win the same share of the union vote after implementing his reforms? Because they didn’t consider these reforms to be an anti-union attack. Making unions run for re-election and making union dues voluntary cause unions to be more accountable to their members. No wonder union members overwhelmingly support these ideas. Of course, government employees were not thrilled about paying more for their pension and health care bills, but they did not dislike everything Walker had done.
Walker’s reforms have brought about much-needed change for the state government, including reining in out-of-control spending. When Walker took office, Wisconsin faced a $3.6 billion deficit. His reforms let the state get the budget under control without raising taxes. Since Walker took office, the state unemployment rate fell from 7.7 percent to 6.7 percent. Employers in the state created 23,000 net new jobs last year.