WASHINGTON – Americans decisively support laws ensuring the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions by a nearly two-to-one margin, according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll.
Sixty-one percent said they oppose legislation stripping those rights in their states, as compared to only 33 percent who said they favor such laws, a striking discrepancy that shows public opinion firmly on one side of a growing national fight. Six percent had no opinion.
The wide margin could influence the outcome of a now high-profile skirmish over Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s new budget measure curtailing the ability of public employee unions to collectively bargain for salaries and benefits.
Wisconsin Democrats fled the state last week in protest and have not yet returned, bringing government activity in the state to a halt as thousands gather in Madison to demonstrate against the proposal. Republicans, who control the legislature, say they won’t seek other ways to push through the measure without the missing Democrats.
The public’s was also deeply divided on how best to solve state budget crises, a critical important issue as many legislatures grapple over ways to bridge their deficits that resulted from the recession.
Fifty-three percent opposed cutting pay or benefits for state employees; 44 percent supported it. The public was divided down the middle on whether to cut state spending programs, and seventy-one percent opposed increasing taxes or revenues to cover their shortfalls.
Republican Govs. Rick Scott of Florida and Mitch Daniels of Indiana on Tuesday opted not to follow in Walker’s footsteps, and abandoned plans in their states to close their budget deficit by curtailing the rights of unions, which could signal a shift in momentum.
Walker maintains that he won’t back down on his proposal, guaranteeing a continued face-down between pro- and anti-union forces until one side blinks.