Wisconsin governor says it’s important to stay the course during crises.
In trying times—whether it’s in business or in government—leaders need a positive vision, a bold plan to address the challenges, and most importantly, the courage to carry out the plan.
When managing a crisis, you will face obstacles that may prompt you to adjust your plan. My advice: Fight the urge to swerve off course, be brave and see your plan carried out.
That’s what we did in Wisconsin, and three years later, we’re seeing tremendous results. You can too.
In 2011, Wisconsin faced a financial crisis. Our $3.6 billion deficit and various structural issues with the state’s finances were the consequence of years of fiscal imprudence. But when my administration came into office that year, our positive vision focused on giving our kids and our grandkids a better Wisconsin than the one we inherited. Our bold plan involved systemic changes to the way state government operated, and we faced strong opposition, including 100,000 protesters who converged on the state’s Capitol, that aimed to stop our reforms.
Our changes were about managing our finances and setting realistic expectations among our public workforce. Before our reforms, public employees didn’t contribute to their pensions, and they paid a very small fraction of their health insurance premiums. I do not blame our public workers for this. I blame officials who gave them years of sweetheart deals, only to let future leaders fix the structural issues they found too difficult to confront.
To stop this systemic problem, we asked our state workers to make a contribution of 5.8 percent of their salary toward their pension and pay 12.6 percent of their healthcare premiums.
Next, we removed collective bargaining from the public sector except for base salary negotiations, which are now capped by the Consumer Price Index. This reform also gives school districts and local governments the ability to bid out for their health insurance plans so others can compete against the costly agreements associated with public sector unions.
The results have been overwhelmingly positive. Our reforms have already saved local governments and the state more than $2 billion. Recent reports have shown Milwaukee Public Schools, Wisconsin’s largest school district, will save $1 billion by 2020. Our budget is balanced, and the state’s rainy day fund has the largest balance in its history.
During the protests and the threat of recall elections, it might have been easier to give up on our reforms. Thankfully, we had the courage to stay true to ourselves and to our conviction that what we were doing was right.