Friday, February 25, 2011

Budget Repair Bill passes Assembly 51-17; Dems furious about procedures

After 60 hours of nearly constant debate and 86 amendments, State Assembly Republicans passed Scott Walker's Budget Repair bill at approximately 1 AM this morning on a swift voice vote that happened so quickly nearly 1/3 of the body failed to record a vote. The 2 1/2 day legislative marathon, considered by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau as perhaps the longest in Wisconsin legislative history, began Tuesday morning when the measure, known as AB11, was brought to the floor for debate and minority Democrats were allowed to begin offering a proposed list 200 amendments. In the end, with 2 minutes to bring each amendment to the floor and 10 minutes to debate each one, a series of Democratic stall tactics, caucuses, short recesses, and vociferous procedural arguments, not quite 100 were offered on the floor, all of them defeated. Republicans, fed up with the Democrat's attempts to stretch the debate out incessantly, tabled the remaining amendments at about 7 PM last evening and moved to vote for finalization of bill for passage, rejecting immediate Democrat requests to expunge the engrossment, and Minority Leader Peter Barca's request for a recess in the session until 10 AM. They then allowed floor speeches until nearly 1 AM when a motion was seconded to end debate and prepare for the final passage. The voice vote, which passed at about 1:05 AM, happened so quickly that nearly 1/3 of the members of the standing body weren't able to record their votes, leading to a 51 to 17 result in passage, with 68 of 99 members having voted. Democrats, already infuriated by what they've considered illegal procedures by the Republican leadership since Friday, felt violated and threatened the possibility of legal action. Said Barca on the Wispolitics Budget Blog:

"Clearly there was improper actions taken and we will explore how far that went and whether it does rise to the nature of actually being illegal," Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said after the Dems met in caucus.

Barca, D-Kenosha, said the Dems will be reviewing video of the vote on WisconsinEye.

Like Barca, Dem leaders were cautious in talking in caucus about how they would pursue a remedy to the vote that saw only 68 of the 99 members register their votes. But immediately after the vote, some Dems hinted that legal action may be coming.

The fact that many of his caucus members were not even able to push their buttons in time to register their votes "speaks volumes," Barca said.

"That shows how sloppily that was handled," Barca said. "We think that the votes were not even properly put before us in terms of a series of motions that are required to take the action that they took."

The Senate took up a Call of the House again this morning in another attempt to bring wayward Democratic Senators back to the chamber. It began it's business at the scheduled 11 AM time this morning when a Special Session was once again called to order, and bill was taken off of the Senate Org Calendar and offered up on the floor. The recently passed Assembly bill (AB 11) was given a 3rd reading by voice vote and then the Special Session suspended until further action. The Regular Session was subsequently taken up and there was no further word on what actions would be taken with the Budget Repair Bill.

Meanwhile, Scott Walker held a press conference on Thursday evening where he offered further reasoning for his repeal of the CBA agreements in the Bill.

"I'm not normally a cynic, but I gotta tell you, if you take a look at what has happened at the local level over the past 2 weeks since we've introduced this measure, it tells you exactly what's going to happen," Walker explained. "Now if we were somehow to say, 'Well, we'll just take the 5 and the 12' (percent for health and pensions), actions speak louder than words. Over the past few weeks, we've seen in school districts, we've seen in cities, we've seen in technical schools, we've seen in counties, a rush to ram through employee contracts that have not a 5 and a 12% contribution. In fact, in the contracts I've seen, they've had no additional contribution when it comes to health care or retirement costs for government employees. In fact, in some cases they are actually ramming through contracts that have an increase in the salary."

In an opinion piece published on Wispolitics, Walker continued to chastise Senate Democrats for leaving the State and not participating in the process of passing the Bill.

The reason Senate Democrats claimed they left the state was because citizens needed more time to debate the issue. This is ironic because 12 of the 14 missing Senate Democrats passed Governor Doyle’s budget repair bill, which raised taxes by a billion dollars, within 24 hours of introduction and without a public hearing in February 2009. Senate Republicans vehemently disagreed with the bill and the process Democrats used to ram it through; however they stayed in Wisconsin, debated the legislation and made the choice to participate in democracy by casting their vote in opposition.

He also reiterated the dire numbers behind the budget shortfall and how important it was action to be taken resolving it.

We have a deficit for the remainder of this fiscal year and a $3.6 billion deficit for the next budget that starts on July 1. Our budget repair bill allows us to save $300 million from state government workers and gives local units of government the tools to save $1.44 billion in the next state budget. In addition, it gives local governments the tools to save even more in order to protect jobs and vital services. To achieve these savings, we need to pass our repair bill. That’s why the Senate Democrats need to come home.

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