These are the 14 Wisconsin Democrats who have yet to return to their jobs in Madison.Today, those Democrats who fled the state 18 days ago asked for a meeting with Governor Scott Walker to talk about changes to his plan to eliminate most public workers' union privileges. The governor dismissed the request as "ridiculous".The stalemate has placed Wisconsin at the center of a vigorous debate over the future of unions. Weeks of protests have drawn tens of thousands of people to the capitol.Walker is being forced to deal with a projected $3.5 billion shortfall, and pension obligations are a major part of the budget gap.A Pew Center report shows in 2008 states set aside $2.4 trillion to pay for public employees' retirement and their benefits...but the actual price tag turned out to be a trillion dollars more than that.How? By failing to make annual payments, expanding benefits without determining how to pay for them, and health care.So this is not just a Wisconsin problem... or Ohio, Indiana or New Jersey for that matter. It's a growing problem across the country - one that around a dozen states have already addressed.Take Alaska for example - six years ago the state legislature voted to force all new state employees into a 401(k) type plan, and gave current employees an option to switch. And guess how big a budget shortfall Alaska is projected to have this coming fiscal year... oh yea...they're not.In Colorado - the option for such a plan was created in 2004, but last year they raised the retirement age from 55 to 60 and upped employee contribution requirements.In 2010, Colorado had a $1.6 billion budget shortfall. Now it's expected to be below a billion dollars - and they're expected to be in the black come 2013.Minnesota is one of the hardest-hit states, facing a $4 billion budget gap. To combat this, it reduced the cost-of-living adjustments to current and future retirees.Now looking ahead to 2013, they expect to cut that shortfall in half. And these are just a few examples - the Website 24/7 points out 16 states have killed their pension plans for public employees.See that Wisconsin and Ohio? It can be done.And for those who say the battles over public pensions and guaranteed health benefits isn't about money—the numbers tell a different story.
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