The budget debate in Wisconsin has garnered national attention for the rhetoric, rallies and tactics employed by opponents of work place reform. It has gotten ugly in Wisconsin and it looks like the spectacle is headed here.

I support anyone’s right to rally and advocate for their positions. We are all Americans and, thanks to the military, we have every right to stand up for our beliefs.

What I do not understand is how an elected official would flee their state to shutdown the legislative process. Nor do I understand how teachers could call out sick and shutdown a school to attend a rally.

Here in Maine every state elected official takes an oath to support the Constitution of Maine and the United States. They also must swear to faithfully discharge, to the best of their abilities, the duties incumbent on them.

As the debate over workplace rules heats up here, I hope we all remember our oaths of office and do our very best to respect the people and institutions we serve.

The Maine State Employees Union is planning rallies at the State House around the retirement proposals in our budget. They are claiming we plan to “drive public workers into poverty,” and “decimate the retirement benefits of current and retired members.”

There are about 70,000 retired and current public sector employees who are now receiving retiree benefits or are working and contributing to the state retirement system. My proposals are reasonable reforms that cut our overall obligations and our immediate payments by about 50 percent.

Making changes now will help us maintain our retiree benefits for those who have worked in the public sector and are planning on a defined pension benefit from the state to fund their retirement. Without action, I am convinced we will reach a point where our defined pension system will be abandoned as too expensive.

Here are the quick facts. Next year’s pension checks will not go down a single penny as a result of our reforms. We only eliminate 12 filled positions in my budget. For each of these 12 layoffs we retain more than 1,000 good paying, public sector jobs. And the average Maine worker will receive a boost in next year’s take home pay of 2 percent because we eliminate the shutdown days.

If we promised the same to most private sector employees they would take to the streets in celebration rather than protest.

As for the union issues attracting so much attention in Wisconsin, I can tell you my views are clear. Our essential liberties were first and best captured in the opening of the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately we have gotten away from defending our rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness and that needs to change.

Workers in Maine should have the freedom to pursue their happiness as they best see fit. If your workplace has a responsive and effective union, you should have every right to become a member and contribute.

If you do not believe your workplace union helps in your pursuit of happiness, you should also have the right to decline participation. Forcing a worker to join or support an organization as a condition of employment runs counter to the rights described in our Declaration of Independence.

For many in Maine there is no freedom of choice when it comes to supporting a workplace union. I think that needs to change and I look forward to a fair but honest debate on the matter.

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