Some Governors Not Keen on Adopting Wisconsin Plan to Allow Voters to Decide on Public Employee Pay Hikes

March 1, 2011 - 6:00 AM

Gov. Scott Walker

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker addresses the media at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire would not support allowing voters of her state to decide if public employees can have pay hikes that exceed the rate of inflation, part of the proposal being considered in Wisconsin to rein in the escalating cost of state workers’ salaries and benefits.

“My job in Washington State is to collectively bargain with my unions,” Gregoire, a Democrat and chairwoman of the National Governors Association, told CNSNews.com. “Whatever I negotiate goes before my legislature. They have the opportunity to thumbs up or thumbs down. They are the elected people representing the people of the state of Washington."

Gregoire and the nation’s governors were in Washington for the winter meeting of the NGA that began Saturday and concluded on Monday. Walker did not attend the conference.

“Let me just share with you, I’ve been in very difficult negotiations with my unions over the last six months,” Gregoire said. “In the process they’ve come to the table to negotiate. They are sacrificing with pay cuts. They are sacrificing with their health care, and we are undertaking pension reform.”

She said there is no reason to change the current process in her state.

“We’ve come to the table,” Gregoire continued. “We’ve done exactly what one needs to do in collective bargaining. We’ve respected each other’s positions. We got the job done. So, I am proud of what we’ve done, and I see no reason whatsoever to change what we have in Washington State.”

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker supports legislation that would maintain the state employees’ ability to negotiate only over pay but would strip them of collective bargaining rights or other benefits. Any pay increases negotiated could not exceed the rate of inflation unless approved by the voters of the state.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, the NGA vice chairman, seemed more open to the idea, though he did not specify whether he wanted it for his state.

“In the state of Nebraska, we welcome citizen input,” Heineman, a Republican, told CNSNews.com. “We’ve had many times when initiatives are on the ballot and we should have listened to the people of our state. I would say that is the voice that should be heard loud and clear."

"Nebraska state lawmakers already have to submit their pay increases to the will of voters," he said. “Specifically on pay raises, we do that right now for state senators of our state. In order to change their pay, it has to be a vote of the people.”

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, told CNSNews.com this likely would not be applicable to his state.

“What might be good for Wisconsin might not be good for Mississippi. We don’t have collective bargaining in Mississippi,” Barbour told CNSNews.com. “We do not require our state employees or school teachers to pay union dues. If they want to, they’re welcome."

“But we don’t withhold dues for the unions," he said. "So it’s a choice for our employees whether they want to join and it’s a choice on whether they want to pay dues. We leave that choice up to them. So probably not applicable."