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An era of change: Former Capitol reporter and public policy expert Jason Stein looks back on Act 10, a decade later

Posted at 4:33 PM, Feb 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-10 19:30:02-05

TMJ4 is taking a deep dive into the Capitol Chaos that sparked protests as a result of Act 10 in Wisconsin, 10 years ago this week.

The passage of Act 10 completely changed the political landscape here in Wisconsin.

The images from the state Capitol are still embedded in our memory and there's a good chance no matter which side of the debate you were on back then - it's also where you are today.

TMJ4's political expert Charles Benson, who was there on day one and covered it all, looks back on those days and what it means today with former Republican Governor Scott Walker, Milwaukee Democratic state Senator Lena Taylor, and a former reporter now public policy researcher, Jason Stein.

Stein was a veteran capitol reporter. He wasn't just covering history; he was writing the first draft of those dramatic days. These days he takes deeper dives into policy issues like the one he covered.

Benson: It wasn't just a policy change; it was a philosophical change in government?
Stein: I think that's right, and I think it's been borne out by what happened in the decade since

Stein covered the day-to-day debate and drama for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and later co-authored a book about Act 10. He's now the Research Director at the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Ten years later, one fact is indisputable: Act 10 ushered in an era of change.

"We went from being in the top 10 tax states to being below the national average. We went from being well above the national average in terms of K-12 spending per pupil to now being below the national average," said Stein. "You can always debate what that means. What that effect is on quality of life and quality of the services."

When Act 10 required most public employees to pay a share of their health and pension benefits, it also limited local government's ability to spend on public services.

"Significant new limits put in place on state local property taxes, those have, by and large, remained in place and so that has resulted in your lower taxes," said Stein. "And also lower spending."

But it also came at a huge cost to public and private unions in a state where AFSCME was founded in the 1930s for public employees.

"So, you did see in the wake of Act 10 and Right to Work, you've seen a diminishment in the share of workers in Wisconsin who belong to unions," said Stein. "That certainly has been led by a decrease in workers in public sector professions that are no longer part of a union."

Watch the full report tonight on TMJ4 News at 6.

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