(The Center Square) – It has been 10 years to the day since Gov. Scott Walker signed the law that changed Wisconsin’s financial and political future.
On March 11, 2011, Walker signed Act 10 into law.
Act 10 at its most basic limits collective bargaining for public sector labor unions, including wage increases. Since Act 10 became state law, public sector unions may no longer include health insurance costs, extra salary requests, or broader benefit packages in their contracts. As well, Act 10 limits raises to the consumer price index.
Act 10 supporters say those changes benefited the state and local governments by saving almost $14 billion over the past 10 years.
In the decade since Act 10’s adoption into state law, Republicans and those in the Walker Administration assert the former governor and Act 10 have been proven right.
“I think the most important thing about Act 10, was that it was both a reset of the labor-management relationship and a reset of the state’s fiscal situation,” Keith Gilkes, Gov. Walker’s former chief of staff, told The Center Square.
Gilkes said 10 years ago Wisconsin was facing a $3 billion structural deficit as well as public labor unions unwilling to allow state lawmakers to trim expenses to get the state out of the hole.
“The labor unions tried to ram contracts through in the month of December, before Scott Walker became governor,” Gilkes explained. “Everyone misses that context to understand why Act 10 was absolutely necessary.”
Gilkes says Act 10 also reset the political balance for governments.
“AFSCME was a very powerful political force in Wisconsin politics at the time, which meant they had the ability, as the employees of the state, to influence who their boss was,” Gilkes said. “In reality that’s not necessarily to the benefit of the taxpayers. Ultimately is it to the detriment of taxpayers.”
CJ Szafir, president of Milwaukee-based Institute for Reforming Government and former policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said the impact of lessening the unions’ stranglehold on taxpayers is most evident in Wisconsin’s public schools.
“By taking the union bosses out of the relationship between principals and teachers, Act 10 has the ability to transform K-12 education,” Szafir told The Center Square. “In the last decade, school districts have left the archaic days of paying teachers based on seniority. Many districts like Green Bay have moved to pay teachers for their performance. This has created a whole new marketplace where districts are competing for the best teachers.”
Szafir said the legacy of Act 10 is not just its fiscal impact, or the rebalancing of power in the state. Szafir said Act 10’s true legacy is that it remains in place 10 years after it was signed into law.
“Act 10 is the single most transformational piece of legislation in Wisconsin’s history,” Szafir said. “Act 10 is not going away. Progressives would be wise to move on. To simply take the cost-savings tools away from local governments would blow a hole in their budgets. It’s just not politically – or practically – possible.”