There is nothing pleasant about a recall election. They are expensive, distracting, and hyperpartisan. Now that the election is over, it is time for Gov. Scott Walker, the legislature and the people of Wisconsin to go back to work and find more balanced solutions to their problems. Governor Walker’s challenge to public pensions and collective bargaining can be seen as a part of the larger national conversation about sensible entitlement reforms. This conversation will be painful, but it must begin because the country is on a path that is not sustainable. However, the solutions to our challenges must require shared sacrifice. America is not about picking winners and losers, we are about upward mobility, hard work, and playing by the rules. This conversation should be all about math, not politics. The country is on a fiscal path that simply does not add up. If we don’t alter course, we will go the way of Greece. Taxes must be raised on the rich and those of us doing well. Similarly, we need to take a more realistic approach to public-employee pensions, entitlements, and corporate loopholes. As much as we might wish, we cannot provide benefits that exceed our revenue.
In this difficult time, leaders have to make unpopular decisions that come with potential consequences. Three months before my recall, I raised car taxes, which were used entirely to finance local fire, police, and public-safety agencies. I refused to short-change public safety and argued that the legislature and I had reduced the car tax in the preceding four years by 50 percent, but lower state revenues forced us to return the car tax to the level that it was when I took office. That argument was spectacularly unsuccessful, and people said: “Hasta la vista baby!”
Wisconsin does not have a referendum process, and thus had no other remedy available to it. So, clearly this national conversation will be difficult. My generation has benefited from the sacrifices and investments of the World War II generation. Further, we were given opportunities our parents could not dream of. The least we can do for the next generation is to avoid the coming fiscal train wreck in a balanced and responsible way. If we get it right, our children and the country will be better for our efforts.