GREEN BAY - Aside from removing collective bargaining rights for state workers, the governor has proposed state workers pay more toward their benefits.
That's part of a measure the legislature is scheduled to take up tomorrow.
Senate Bill 11 proposes some changes to the bottom line for public employees, and could have an impact on services across the state.
Governor Walker is proposing: state workers pay more at least 12% of their health insurance premiums, and contribute 5.8% to their pension.
The governor says reforming public employee benefits is one part of balancing the state's budget.
So what is the difference in wages and benefits between public and private employees?
"I'm concerned about a couple of different things," said Kim Lewis, a licensed clinical social worker at Winnebago Mental Health Institute. She's worked for the state for 11 years. She likes her job, but if Governor Walker's proposal goes through, she may look for a different one.
"I can only speak for my profession and I can tell you that yes there are jobs available in my profession," said Lewis. "I could go somewhere else and for hourly wage at this point make more money based on my experience, based on my credentials per hourly wage I could go somewhere else at this point. Now if you talk about the cuts that Governor Walker is proposing, it really encourages you to maybe look elsewhere."
"I want a state budget that works not only now, but for years to come," said Walker.
FOX 11 talked with the governor about his plans for state workers and the idea that increasing contributions to benefits and pension may make state employment less attractive.
"In a state that has seven and a half percent unemployment, three points higher than it was three years ago, for us attracting good employees is less (of) a worry than keeping people employed in the state of Wisconsin. And for me the tradeoff is if I don't do this, there are going to be thousands of fewer state employees working. And I'd much rather, not just on behalf of them, but on behalf of the fact that I don't need any more people in the state unemployed and so from an economic standpoint that's a much higher priority than what the long term attraction might be for working for the state," said Walker.
So just how attractive is it to work for the state of Wisconsin right now?
A study by the Economic Policy Institute released last week looked at a six-year period, and reports Wisconsin state and government employees are under-compensated 8.2% when compared with similar private sector workers.
However a different study, put together by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, found Wisconsin government workers did better overall in benefits and wages than those working in the private sector. The study found in 2005, total compensation for government workers averaged more than $46,522, 8.4 % higher than the private level of nearly $42,928.
Why the difference in information, and which one is correct?
"In one there is no controlling for level of education and in the other there is,"said Dale Feinauer, a human resources professor at UW-Oshkosh. "So they both say things that are true. On average state employees make more than private sector employees. Stop. That's a true statement. If you compare, within levels of education, public sector employees make less than private sector employees. Both true statements."
After reviewing a number of studies Feinauer has come to this conclusion when it comes to pay and benefits: "The private sector is better than the public sector in the state of Wisconsin."
Walker disagrees with that finding.
"Today on almost every measure, there might be an exception here or there, public employees are making wages at or better than most in the private sector as well as having much greater benefits," said Walker.
"It's like the plantation owner talking to the slaves. We've moved in Walker's mentality from public service to public servitude," Marty Beil told FOX 11 in December.
Beil, executive director of the union that represents 22,000 state workers, did not respond to FOX 11's numerous requests for comment for this story. However, when he did speak with us in December he was critical of Walker's ideas for state employees.
"Here he sits as the incoming governor, basically issuing mandates about what he wants to happen. Governors and employers don't do that especially in the modern era of labor relations. We sit down at a table to talk about things," Beil said in December.
FOX 11 asked Walker if that was a fair criticism. Walker's response: "No. Because in the end I'm not bargaining over the budget. These are economic realities. This is not a negotiation. I'm not conducting a public negotiation. I'm conducting a public dialogue with the people of the state as to the crisis we face with this budget. And so far they've criticized the process but they can't criticize the numbers because they're more than accurate."
"I am very concerned with that response," said Kim Lewis. "Because again those in the union
have been involved for years and again have very creative ideas as to how to cut back, how we could do things differently, how we could all work together."
The governor says changing benefits for state workers is just one sustainable, long-term piece of the puzzle when it comes to balancing the budget.
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