Rep. Dennis Richardson: Wisconsin Turmoil – Lessons for Oregon

by Rep. Dennis Richardson

I am State Representative Dennis Richardson and this newsletter is for Oregonians interested in learning more about the economic issues that affect our state. Today’s newsletter begins with an overview on Oregon’s budget crisis, and then compares and contrasts Oregon with Wisconsin to see what we can learn from Wisconsin’s current turmoil.

Oregon’s Economic Crisis.

I would like to actually speak with you about Oregon’s Budget—what it is and what economic factors will influence most the preparation of the 2011-13 two year (“biennial”) budget.

Please turn up your computer’s volume, sit back and watch this week’s budget presentation on YouTube. I hope you find it informative. (Click here.)

Wisconsin & Oregon—Comparison & Contrast.

If you have been watching the action in Wisconsin, you know of the public employee outrage, orchestrated demonstrations and partisan controversy over their Governor’s response to Wisconsin’s budget crisis.

Are there lessons for Oregon to learn from what is transpiring in Wisconsin?

Consider the following facts:

–Wisconsin has a population of 5.7 million.

–Oregon has a population of 3.8 million.

–Wisconsin has a budget shortfall of at least $3.6 billion over the next two years.

–Oregon has a budget shortfall of at least $3.5 billion over the next two years.

–Wisconsin State workers currently pay 6% of their health benefit costs and are being asked to increase the employee’s portion and pay 12% of their health care premiums. (Kaiser Family Foundation states the national average contribution toward healthcare policies among government and private workers is nearly 30%.)

–Oregon State workers currently pay nothing (0%) toward their health benefits. (Oregon is the only state in the USA that pays 100% of its employee health benefit and PERS costs.)

–Wisconsin State workers currently pay 1% of their retirement plan costs and they are being asked to increase employee contributions to 5.8%. (The national average for government worker contributions toward retirement plans is 6.3%.)

–Oregon State workers currently pay nothing (0%) toward their retirement plan (PERS) costs. (Click here.)

–Wisconsin’s proposal includes prohibiting most government workers from (1.) collectively bargaining for anything other than their salaries, and (2.) demanding pay increases above theConsumer Price Index measure of inflation. To bypass the salary cap would require voter approval. Additionally, Wisconsin’s proposal would stop unions from requiring public employees to pay union dues.

–Oregon has no limitations on public employee unions or their ability to collectively bargain, and Oregon collects union dues from state employee paychecks. (Oregon’s public employee unions are free to continue negotiating for the State to pay 100% of both health and PERS retirement benefits for all State workers. [Wisconsin information source—Click here.]

How have Wisconsin’s citizens responded to the on-going partisan clash between its Governor and the public employee unions?

A just-released poll of Wisconsin citizens reveals the following:

• By 74-18, Wisconsin voters support making state employees pay more for their health insurance.

• By 79-16, Wisconsin voters support requiring state workers to contribute more toward their retirement/pension plan.

• By 54-34, Wisconsin voters support ending the automatic deduction of union dues from state workers’ paychecks, and support making unions collect dues from each member.

• By 66-30, Wisconsin voters support limiting state workers’ pay increases to the rate of inflation unless voters approve a higher raise by a public referendum.

• By 41-54, Wisconsin voters oppose limiting collective bargaining to wage and benefit issues.

• By 58-38, Wisconsin voters support limiting collective bargaining on matters relating to educational issues such as, (1.) giving schools flexibility to modify tenure, (2.) paying teachers based on merit, and (3.) discharging bad teachers and promoting good ones. (To see poll, Click here.)

Is Wisconsin’s turmoil a precursor for Oregon? You decide.