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Scott Walker's "Fireside Chat"

7:36 PM, Feb 22, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Madison, Wisc.

Local news channels televised a live 10-minute speech by Governnor Scott Walker just after 6:00 p.m. local time. Walker began his direct appeal to voters by praising public employees. "Tonight, I thank the 300,000-plus state and local government employees who showed up for work today and did their jobs well," Walker said. "We appreciate it.  If you take only one message away tonight, it’s that we all respect the work that you do."

He then noted the concerns of individuals who had written to him via email and responded by making the same arguments he's been making over the past week. On the point of why curtailing collective bargaining is necessary to balance the budget, he said:

Now, some have questioned why we have to reform collective bargaining to balance the budget. The answer is simple the system is broken: it costs taxpayers serious money – particularly at the local level.  As a former county official, I know that first hand.

 

For years, I tried to use modest changes in pension and health insurance contributions as a means of balancing our budget without massive layoffs or furloughs.  On nearly every occasion, the local unions (empowered by collective bargaining agreements) told me to go ahead and layoff workers.  That’s not acceptable to me.

 

Here’s another example:  in Wisconsin, many local school districts are required to buy their health insurance through the WEA Trust (which is the state teachers union’s company).  When our bill passes, these school districts can opt to switch into the state plan and save $68 million per year.  Those savings could be used to pay for more teachers and put more money into the classroom to help our kids. 

"The legislation I’ve put forward is about one thing. It’s about balancing our budget now -- and in the future," Walker said. 
Here's the full transcript of his address:

Wisconsin is showing the rest of the country how to have a passionate, yet civil debate about our finances. That’s a very Midwestern trait and something we should be proud of. I pray, however, that this civility will continue as people pour into our state from all across America.

First, let me be clear: I have great respect for those who have chosen a career in government. I really do.

In 1985, when I was a high school junior in the small town of Delavan, I was inspired to pursue public service after I attended the American Legion's Badger Boys State program.  The military veterans and educators who put on that week-long event showed the honor in serving others.

Tonight, I thank the 300,000-plus state and local government employees who showed up for work today and did their jobs well.  We appreciate it.  If you take only one message away tonight, it’s that we all respect the work that you do.

I also understand how concerned many government workers are about their futures.  I’ve listened to their comments and read their emails. 

I listened to the educator from Milwaukee who wrote to me about her concerns about the legislation and what it might mean for her classroom.

That’s why last week we agreed to make changes to the bill to address many of those issues.

And I listened to others like the correctional officer in Chippewa Falls who emailed me arguing that bargaining rights for public employee unions are the only way to ensure that workers get a fair say in their working conditions.

I understand and respect those concerns.  It’s important to remember that many of the rights we’re talking about don’t come from collective bargaining.  They come from the civil service system in Wisconsin.  That law was passed in 1905 (long before collective bargaining) and it will continue long after our plan is approved. 

You see, despite a lot of the rhetoric we’ve heard over the past 11 days the bill I put forward isn’t aimed at state workers, and it certainly isn’t a battle with unions.  If it was, we would have eliminated collective bargaining entirely or we would have gone after the private-sector unions. 

But, we did not because they are our partners in economic development.  We need them to help us put 250,000 people to work in the private sector over the next four years. 

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