JEFFREY BROWN: Now to the continuing battle between states and public-sector unions.
Margaret Warner has the story.
MARGARET WARNER: The stalemate in Wisconsin between its Republican governor and state employee unions is now in its third week with no clear end in sight. Senate Democrats fled the state to prevent a vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s move to sharply restrict collective bargaining for most public unions. As the dispute mushroomed into a national controversy, the Republican Governors Association aired a television ad supporting Walker.
Last week, we heard from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on the controversy.
Tonight, we talk to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, vice chair of the Republican Governors Association.
And, Governor, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R-Va.): Hey, Margaret.
MARGARET WARNER: You 20…
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL: I appreciate being on. Thanks.
MARGARET WARNER: You 29 Republican governors run very different states. You have got different situations vis-a-vis your public employee unions. Why have you collectively come out to support Gov. Walker in Wisconsin?
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL: Well, Gov. Walker is a new governor. He’s making some tough choices. He’s got a $3.7 billion budget deficit. And he’s being honest with the citizens to say, look, we have got to be able to cut spending, make tough choices.
And some of those involve participation by the employees of the state in paying more into their pensions and paying portions of their benefits, something I have asked to be done here this year in Virginia. So, we think the governor is making the right choices, the tough choices that have to be made in these austere budget times, Martha, and so we’re supporting his efforts.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Mr. Trumka said last week — he noted that, if the aim here is to reduce the — Wisconsin’s deficit, that the public employees have already agreed to all of the budget concessions that the governor asked for, some of the things you mentioned, such as contributing more to the health and their pension system.
So, really, why is that not enough?
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL: Well, that’s a decision for the people of Wisconsin and Gov. Walker on that. Each state makes their decision on union management relations.
I happen to have the benefit, Margaret, of being in a right-to-work state. We banned collective bargaining for public sector employees 20 years ago. And it’s given me in Virginia a great opportunity to trumpet our state as a great place to do business.
And I think that’s what Gov. Walker is trying to do. And that’s the call of the people of Wisconsin. Our — our — what we’re trying to support in that score is to say, these 14 senators that have fled the state aren’t on the battlefield of democracy and aren’t willing to show up and debate the issue and vote, that that’s wrong. They ought to come back, have the debate, and be able to do what’s right for the people of Wisconsin.
MARGARET WARNER: So, do you think that really is Gov. Walker’s aim, to really end public employees’ right to collectively bargain, to bargain collectively over their wages and benefits, and become a state like Virginia?
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL: I think that he would like to be more competitive. I think that is what every governor would like to be in this — coming out of the global economic downturn is to be able to have a better story to tell to get businesses to come to your state.
And having those advantages is certainly a positive. I think Gov. Walker understands that, if there’s going to be ongoing collective bargaining in future years, it’s going to potentially continue to increase the cost of doing business in government, and it is a long-term budget driver. So, that issue really is up to the people of Wisconsin.
I can only tell you, from Virginia experience, is it gives me a great advantage here in our state. And I think he’d like to have his state be more competitive.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let me ask you about something Mr. Trumka said. He said that you and other Republican governors, he thought this wasn’t really about balancing a state budget, but trying to take away the rights of workers to come together to bargain for a middle-class life.
And he also said he saw essentially a concerted campaign by a number of Republican governors to vilify public employee unions. Now, what do you say to that?
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL: I would say that’s just flat wrong.
I have 103,000 state employees that work in Virginia. They’re good, hardworking, decent people, and they do great work for our state. We take good care of them. We have a good benefit plan, good health insurance plan.
You know, but I’m trying to tell our state employees as well in Virginia that we’re one of only four states that doesn’t have to pay anything into the pension plan. And that’s not sustainable. We need shared sacrifice, because we’re — we have $18 billion in unfunded liabilities in the pension plan.
So, that’s what it’s about for me. I think that’s what it’s about for other governors. We have had to make tough choices in Virginia to cut our spending back to 2006 levels. And it involves a lot of gutsy decisions. Gov. Walker is doing the same thing. And that’s why we appreciate what he’s doing to be honest with the citizens about what it’s going to take to create solvency in the pension system and ongoing fiscal responsibility in the state.
MARGARET WARNER: There’s been a raft of polls in the last few days, everything from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, all showing that, in fact, the American public is actually, almost by a 2-1 margin, not in favor of what Gov. Walker is trying to do and doesn’t think that public employees should be stripped of the right to collectively bargain or have a union represent them in bargaining over wages and benefits.
Does that concern you? Does that worry you, that you’re losing the public opinion battle here?
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL: Well, Margaret, I haven’t — I haven’t seen that poll, but I can tell you what. You know, leadership takes courage. And when you make hard decisions and you give people tough choices, sometimes, they’re unpopular.
But when you have got a $3.7 billion budget deficit — and I had a $4.2 billion deficit last year. I had to make some tough choices. I know they weren’t popular. But now we have got a surplus in Virginia. He’s having to do the same thing in Wisconsin.
And I think, sometimes, when you make those tough choices, sometimes, the people don’t like those — those tough calls. But I admire him for standing up and saying what he thinks needs to be done to get Wisconsin on the right fiscal track.
MARGARET WARNER: OK. Governor, I just want to be sure I understand. Even though the employees have already given up all — made all the budget concessions, you think giving up collective bargaining is important, what, for the future?
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL: Well, that’s — again, I’m not going to impose Virginia’s views. We — that’s what we have in our state. That’s up to the people of Wisconsin.
But what I think the governor is saying is that, long term, having the current collective-bargaining position will add to increased benefits and costs of public-sector employees, which is going to increase the cost of government.
So, he’s trying to take care of those long-term problems that he knows are going to continue to add to budget problems for his state. I will tell you what the people don’t like in Wisconsin, and frankly most states is people not being on the — not being in the marketplace of ideas and not being willing to show up to fight the battle.
And he’s had senators that are being paid to do a job, and they’re not there. And I think people don’t like that.
MARGARET WARNER: So — all right, so, do you think — this is a question my colleague Judy Woodruff asked Mr. Trumka — very briefly, do you think what’s happening in Wisconsin could be kind of a waterloo for this issue, a kind of turning point for this issue nationally?
GOV. BOB MCDONNELL: Well, most states — many states have turned the corner.
Twenty-two states, Margaret, are right-to-work states. We have already made those — those kinds of decisions. It’s gotten a lot of national attention because of the fiscal plight of the states. And in addition to spending cuts, these are part of the things that some governors in Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio are taking a look at to try to control their long-term pension and benefit costs.
So, it’s a state-by-state issue. We have made the decision in Virginia. I think it’s right for our state.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, thank you so much.