Lauded as a conservative hero for taking on the public employee unions in Wisconsin in 2010-11, Gov. Scott Walker reminded Connecticut Republicans on Monday that it’s possible to turn a blue state red.
Walker, who headlined the annual Prescott Bush dinner in Stamford, brought with him a message of prosperity that focused on less government and fewer taxes.
The message was well-received by many who attended the event.
“Connecticut wants to hear about new approaches that are different from the failed status quo of Governor Malloy,” Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said in a statement. “People want to hear about alternatives to a 10 percent increase in the state budget and state employee unions that get automatic 6 percent pay increases every single year. That’s not happening anywhere else in the world right now — and it’s not happening in Wisconsin.”
Walker’s visit drew a crowd of about 100 union protesters.
Larry Dorman, a union organizer with AFSCME Council 4, said that in 2011 Walker rammed through legislation that stripped Wisconsin public service workers of their collective bargaining rights, sending his state on a downward spiral.
And even though they may not agree on much, at least two Republicans didn’t believe Walker’s approach in Wisconsin would work here in Connecticut.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, who received the Prescott Bush award Monday, said the basic lesson he took away from Walker’s speech was one Connecticut Republicans have been talking about for years: tax increases stifle economic growth.
Earlier this month Chief Executive magazine ranked Wisconsin the 17th best state in which to do business. In that same survey, Connecticut ranked 45th. In the comment section of the rankings, CEO magazine described Connecticut as “a tax and spend, Democrat-controlled state with no debate.”
McKinney said he doesn’t believe Walker’s method of stripping public employee unions of their bargaining rights would fly in Connecticut, but his general approach to lowering taxes in an effort to get the economy growing again is one that resonates with McKinney.
“The state can’t afford the health and pension benefits plan it offers to state employees,” McKinney said. “I’d rather be pro-taxpayer.”
McKinney, who is considering a run for governor in 2014, said shifting the delivery of social services over to nonprofit providers, who can provide the services at a lower rate, is “not being anti-union, it’s being pro-taxpayer.”
But McKinney’s approach to solving the state’s problems was panned by a smaller group of protesters who were upset with his vote in favor of the gun legislation. McKinney was unfazed. He said he believes he did what was right in voting for the legislation.
“You have to have the courage to worry about the next generation, not the next election,” McKinney said in a phone interview.
Tom Foley, the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee who plans to run for governor again in 2014, said he doesn’t believe he would be able to pass legislation that strips unions of their bargaining rights. He said he looks forward to re-opening the state employee contract, but he doesn’t believe doing what Walker did in Wisconsin is “feasible here.”
“The next governor will have to negotiate a new deal with the unions,” Foley said in a phone interview. “But I don’t think it’s possible to make this a right-to-work state.”
Both McKinney and Foley believe it would be better to start cutting spending.
Malloy has vowed, after implementing the second-largest tax increase in the state’s history during his first year in office, not to raise any new taxes this year.