As reported by Jack Craver in the CapTimes, there’s one thing Democrats Mary Burke & Kathleen Vinehout and Republican Scott Walker seem to agree on: public employees should continue to pay increased health insurance and pension contributions.
Although Mary Burke, the only declared Democratic candidate for governor, has said she supports the right of public employees to collectively bargain, she has also said she believes the increased health care and pension contributions were appropriate.
“I do believe [state employees] paying a fair share of health care and pension costs is something we needed in order to be able to balance the budget,” she told Isthmus last month.
Predictably, the comment upset Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, who suggested in a radio interview that Burke was unaware of the sacrifices that state employees had made in wages over the past 30 years in order to get good benefits.
“Unfortunately she makes these statements and I would hope that someone who is close to her will tell her that before she spouts off like this she needs to understand what the history is here,” he told radio host John “Sly” Sylvester last month. “For her just to say they should have paid more is a stupid thing to say.”
Craver’s piece goes on to note that Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, likely to jump into the Democratic gubernatorial primary, voiced support for the increased benefit contributions in 2011.
While I appreciate what polling has said on the issue of public employee benefits, I also think the polling is reflective of an attitude among many Wisconsinites that has been fostered by Scott Walker and Republicans in the legislature successfully spreading misinformation about public employee pay and benefits. After all, who can forget when Gov. Walker described public employees as “haves” and taxpayers as “have nots” in a speech he gave while running in 2010 for the office he currently holds.
As Marty Beil rightly noted, for years public employees in Wisconsin have sacrificed pay increases in favor of better benefits, and as a result of Act 10 public employees are being asked to pay ever-increasing health insurance and pension contributions, contributions that exceed the 1% raises that state employees have been given presumably to provide Gov. Walker with the ability to say he “cares” about public employees.
The fact is, far too many public employees have seen their take-home pay continue to shrink while the cost of living continues to climb, and it’s sad that Democrats and Republicans alike seem to feel that’s okay.