Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

March 5, 2011

Fact Check: Wisconsin's baffling battle over its budget

The budget battle in Wisconsin has generated much confusion and misinformation, as we have seen in e-mails from our readers in recent days:

-  The state is not on track to end this fiscal year with "a slight surplus." It is facing a $137 million deficit this fiscal year and a $3.6 billion deficit in the next two-year budget cycle.

-  It's also not true that "the average Wisconsin teacher's salary is $100,000." Salaries vary by school district. It's true, however, that the total average compensation — salary and benefits — exceeded $100,000 for Milwaukee teachers in fiscal year 2011.

-  It is true that Gov. Scott Walker's plan would strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from teachers and many other state and local employees, and University of Wisconsin employees would lose those rights altogether. But police, firefighters and state troopers would be exempt.

-  Wisconsin is one of 35 states where teachers have mandatory collective bargaining rights. But it's not true that only five states do not have collective bargaining. Five states ban it, while 10 others don't guarantee it.

-  A claim that Wisconsin ranks second in combined SAT and ACT scores is based on 12-year-old data and flawed methodology. Even the author of that report says it shouldn't be taken "too seriously."

Read on for more complete answers to reader questions on the Wisconsin situation.

Analysis

Newly elected Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, introduced a state budget repair bill on Feb. 11 that has attracted national attention because it seeks major changes to the state's collective bargaining laws. The bill, which is needed to close a $137 million budget gap in the current fiscal year, would allow most state workers to keep their bargaining rights on salaries — but end collective bargaining on all other issues, including health care costs, pensions and workplace conditions. The AFL-CIO and other unions see this as an attack on unions, while the governor sees it as a necessary way to control future labor costs and avoid another budget crisis.

The budget repair bill has led to a showdown between the Republican governor and Democratic state lawmakers — some of whom fled the Capitol in an attempt to prevent a vote on the bill. It has also caused some confusion among people trying to follow the budget crisis.

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