Wisconsin GOP's Quick Maneuver Part Of Longer Budget Battle
“All things seem to end up in court one way or another,” said Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Though it is no certainty that labor unions would challenge a law that bars them from collectively bargaining much more than their salaries, it is clear that their passionate protests and demonstrations could continue into the early summer heat.
For nearly a month, Madison, Wisc. has been a focal point for Americans because of Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate a $3.6 billion budget deficit largely through curtailing the rights of government workers and increasing their required pension and health care contributions.
“The governor proposed an unusually sweeping change in established policy,” Franklin said. “The Democrats responded with a virtually unprecedented way to block passage of the policy. And now Republicans have now resorted to a virtually unheard of measure to pass this bill.”
After a hastily-ordered committee meeting in the late afternoon, Wisconsin Senate Republicans voted Wednesday night to strip unionized public workers of collective bargaining rights. The 18 to 1 vote came as all 14 Senate Democrats remained out of state to deny a legal quorum. The Assembly begins debate on the bill Thursday morning.
The repair bill the Assembly passed last month after 60 straight hours of debate included financial provisions that required one Democrat present in the Senate. So, the Senate Republicans took those tax and budgeting tweaks out.
“This maneuvering shows how high the stakes are and how critical each sides sees winning the issue is,” Franklin said.
Wisconsin's Capitol could swell with protestors on Thursday. Barring any surprises, Gov. Walker could the legislation into law by Friday. Assembly Democrats are likely to make every effort they can to prolong debate on the bill, since the Senate did not spend even a single second debating it.
“Taking on the status quo is no easy task,” Walker says in an editorial in Thursday's Wall Street Journal. “Each day, there are protesters in and around our state Capitol. They have every right to be heard. But their voices cannot drown out the voices of the countless taxpayers who want us to balance our budgets and, more importantly, to make government work for each of them.”
Labor unions have launched a campaign to recall eight Republican Senators; Walker can't be recalled until he has served at least a year in office, which won't come until next January. Republican organizers have also started an effort to recall some of the runaway Democrats, who may or may not return from Illinois on Thursday.
“It makes sense for them to come back and re-engage in legislative debate,” Franklin said. “There's little too lose and lot to gain because the most controversial aspects have already passed.”
The Legislature hasn't even started debating Walker's larger budget proposal. Those plans could draw great scrutiny from Democrats as they try to score some of their own victories.
To compensate for the large crowds expected, Republican leaders have suggested holding the meetings in Wisconsin arenas such as the University of Wisconsin's 17,000-seat arena.
“First I thought it was a joke, but it's a serious attempt to let the people engage in this budget debate that has people feeling very passionate,” Franklin said. “The idea is not just unprecedented, it's several orders of magnitude beyond that.”
On Wednesday, several Senate Democrats reproached Senate Republicans for violating the state's open meeting laws by giving only two hours notice about the meeting during which they amended the budget repair bill.
But even if a legal change ensures, and the court finds them in violation of the open meeting law, Republicans would still be able to repeat the process with more notice. On the face of it, there's little evidence to suggest they wouldn't be able to pass the budget repair bill again without any votes from the other side of the aisle.
To reach reporter Paresh Dave, click here.
Find him on Twitter: @peard33.