By Luke Vargas
Scott Walker quietly slipped into the Chamber of Commerce’s grand Flag Room Wednesday afternoon while Chamber president Tom Donohue delivered dry remarks on stage, but the newly-minted conservative fiscal champion couldn’t avoid drawing enthusiastic handshakes and the ballroom’s attention.
The Wisconsin governor, riding high following a decisive victory in last week’s recall election, was in town with counterparts from Nebraska, Utah, and Delaware to share strategies on economic growth with attendees at the Chamber’s annual Jobs Summit entitled “Touring the States: Policies that Produce.”
Walker spent surprisingly little time dwelling on his efforts on reforming public sector unions in Wisconsin, focusing largely on steps taken to provide businesses in his state with market certainty. He used an anecdote of replacing placards suspended from signs on his state’s border with the phrase “Open for Business,” in lieu of his own name to illustrate his philosophy. He was, however, given the “cleanup spot” on one question on the topic of public sector entitlements asked by moderator Major Garrett, who noted that Walker is a “very prominent newsmaker” on the issue.
“The reality is these benefits are like a virus that eat up more and more of your budget and if you don’t deal with it it’s just going to grow out of control,” Walker said.
The Wisconsin crusader credited Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, the one Democrat on stage, for choosing to undertake public sector benefits reform as well, despite that the state’s program is operating at 96 percent funding levels, significantly higher than the national average.
Citing Illinois’ 43 percent funded pension liability – ranked among the worst in the nation – Walker proclaimed the necessity for preemptive action with confidence.
“The time for reform isn’t when you’re in the hole that deep, it’s long before you get there to try and adjust that,” he said. “That’s part of what we did with some of our reforms at both the state and local level.”