The unions’ battle against Walker’s reforms has rested on the argument that the changes would damage public services beyond repair. The truth, however, is that the reforms not only are saving money already; they’re doing so with little disruption to services. In early August, noticing the trend, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that Milwaukee would save more in health-care and pension costs than it would lose in state aid, leaving the city $11 million ahead in 2012—despite Mayor Tom Barrett’s prediction in March that Walker’s budget “makes our structural deficit explode.”
The collective-bargaining component of Walker’s plan has yielded especially large financial dividends for school districts. Before the reform, many districts’ annual union contracts required them to buy health insurance from WEA Trust, a nonprofit affiliated with the state’s largest teachers’ union. Once the reform limited collective bargaining to wage negotiations, districts could eliminate that requirement from their contracts and start bidding for health care on the open market. When the Appleton School District put its health-insurance contract up for bid, for instance, WEA Trust suddenly lowered its rates and promised to match any competitor’s price. Appleton will save $3 million during the current school year.
Appleton isn’t alone. According to a report by the MacIver Institute, as of September 1, “at least 25 school districts in the Badger State had reported switching health care providers/plans or opening insurance bidding to outside companies.” The institute calculates that these steps will save the districts $211.45 per student. If the state’s other 250 districts currently served by WEA Trust follow suit, the savings statewide could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.