Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker picked an interesting word to describe the state budget Thursday, calling it "progressive." Walker was testifying at a House Oversight hearing on state debt.
His budget and its collective-bargaining provisions, of course, sparked the ire of the entire "progressive" political movement in the U.S. Needless to say, unions haven't agreed with his characterization.
From Walker's prepared testimony:
In Wisconsin, we are doing something truly progressive. In addition to holding the line on
spending and finding efficiencies in state government, we are implementing long term budget
reforms focused on protecting middle class jobs and middle class taxpayers.
While our idea may be a bold political move it is a very modest request of our employees. We
are reforming the collective bargaining system so our state and local governments can ask
employees to contribute 5.8% for pension and 12.6% for health insurance premiums. These
reforms will help them balance their budgets. In total, our collective bargaining reforms save
local governments more than $700 million each year.
Most workers outside of government would love our proposal. For example, my brother David
works as a banquet manager and as a part-time bartender. His wife works at a local
department store. They have two beautiful children. They are a typical middle class family.
He told me that he pays about $800 a month for his health insurance and the little he can set
aside in his 401(k). Like many other workers in our state, he would love a deal like the one I
offered government workers.
Over the past several months, I have visited numerous factories and small businesses across
Wisconsin. On these tours, workers tell me that they pay anywhere from 15% to 50% of their
health insurance premium costs. The average middle class worker is paying more than 20% of his or her premium. Like my brother, they would love a plan like the one we are offering.
Even federal employees pay more than twice what we are asking state and local government
workers to pay and most of them don't have collective bargaining for wages or benefits. These facts beg the question as to why the protesters are in Wisconsin and not in Washington, D.C. By nearly any measure, our requests are quite reasonable.
Aside from the word's political connotations, here's Merriam Webster's first definition:
1. a : of, relating to, or characterized by progress
b : making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities
Rolling back collective bargaining rights is not a new idea, per se. But Walker has certainly called it progress.