HEADLINES : Wisconsin
New policies saved taxpayers $1 billion, Walker says
Brown Deer - Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that his policies had saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1 billion so far - savings largely achieved by the Republican governor and lawmakers repealing most public workers' union bargaining and effectively lowering their compensation.
Much of those savings - more than three-quarters of a billion dollars - could be verified, such as state and local workers picking up more of the tab for their health care and pension. But the figures also included a significant amount of savings for local governments that could not be verified.
"It's not just about saving money and balancing the budget," Walker said in a news conference at Dean Elementary School. "It's about new ways to provide services."
When Walker took office last year, he faced a projected shortfall of more than $3 billion over the two-year budget starting in July 2011. Walker dealt with that by focusing largely on spending cuts rather than tax increases, with roughly $1.3 billion in cuts over two years for schools, local governments, universities and technical colleges. He and GOP lawmakers also put tight limits on local officials' ability to raise property taxes.
To help local officials absorb those cuts, Republicans repealed most collective bargaining for most public employees and required those workers to pay at least 12% of their health benefits premiums and 5.9% of their salary toward their pension benefits. According to the Legislature's nonpartisan budget office, that reduced the take-home pay of the average state worker making $50,000 a year by $4,228, or 8.5%, though the effect was cushioned by the fact that Walker didn't renew the practice of unpaid furlough days for state workers.