In a 5-2 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court yesterday upheld Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial reforms to public employee pay, which – among other things – required state government workers to contribute more to their retirement and health plans. Prior to Walker’s reforms, most Wisconsin state employees contributed nothing toward their pensions and very little toward their health coverage. Act 10, as the legislation was called, generated protests that garnered press attention nationwide.
But what did the Walker reforms mean for public employee pay? In a 2012 study, Jason Richwine and I came away with two results: yes, Act 10 did reduce the total pay package for state government employees, by around 7%. But pre-Act 10, Wisconsin offered state employees a total pay package – salaries and benefits – that was around 29%moregenerous than was received by private sector workers with similar education and experience.
Even with higher pension contributions, Wisconsin public employees have a much better retirement plan than most private sector workers. And even after higher health contributions, Wisconsin public employees have a health plan that’s not merely more generous than the private sector, but more generous than health plans offered to government employees in other states.
So yes, Gov. Walker’s reforms did cut public sector pay. But Wisconsin’s government employees needn’t worry that they could be getting a better deal elsewhere.