Monday, February 21, 2011

Wisconsin Legislature mulls options; Walker States his case

As protestors continued to flood the State Capitol and Democratic Senators held out for a 5th straight day, Senate Republicans mulled over legislative options as both Chambers were expected to get back into session on Tuesday. Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald told Wispolitics today that he would not attach the collective bargaining portion of the State budget repair bill onto a separate piece of legislation and pass it without the presence of his Democratic counterparts. Originally it was considered a possible legislative option for Senate Republicans, who number 19, and are 1 vote short for a full quorum, that according to Senate rules and would need a total of 20 Senators present for a call to business. A provision in the State Constitution; however, allows for 3/5ths of the Senate to be present in order to pass legislation that is not fiscally-related. So, in essence, the Republicans could use the option of detaching the proposal related to collective bargaining and then attach it to a non-related piece of legislation, leaving the fiscal portions of Walkers bill that are now favored by the Democrats to be taken up whenever the opposition Senators returned. With Fitzgerald now ruling out that measure for Tuesday, the Senate will be conducting business as usual by considering other legislation. On the docket for tomorrow: The appointment of Eloise Anderson as head of Department of Children and Families, a dairy and livestock farm investment credit bill will be considered, and a bipartisan resolution commending the Green Bay Packers on their Super Bowl win. However, as the Democratic holdout continues into the week, the Republicans may have to consider using whatever measures are at their disposal as one looming deadline approaches in the ongoing budget battle. According to Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, $165 million dollars of debt service payments are at stake if the Budget Repair Bill is not passed by Friday. The bill restructures general obligation bonds used to pay down debt but in order for the payment structure to take effect, the bill must be passed into law by February 25th to allow for enough time to sell the refinanced bonds before the required debt service date of March 15. If the bond restructuring is not successful, other deeper cuts may have to be made to the state budget in order for the State to keep up with it's obligations. One possible way that Fitzgerald and other Republicans may try to bring the Democrats back to the chamber this week is to dangle a carrot in front of them in the form of passing other legislation the Democrats are opposed to, such as the Voter ID Act that has been sitting in limbo since the start of the budget impasse.

Meanwhile, Governor Scott Walker made the Sunday morning news shows rounds and held a press conference at 5 PM today reiterating his stance on the Budget Repair Bill. Walker told Good Morning America on Monday that his stance on the budget impasse is nonnegotiable and why he believed that there was more at stake in the budget debate than a simple compromise on health and pension costs, and why collective bargaining was an even bigger cost issue.

"But the difference is that there is a cost to collective bargaining. I mean, I'll give you an example, just with our school districts. If instead of being forced to buy from the WEA trust, which is the Teacher's Union Health Insurance Company, school districts could buy off of the State Health Insurance plan and they could save $68 million dollars. I know it well. I used to be a county official for 8 1/2 years, every time I tried to do something sensible to balance our budget without laying people off, the union said, "No, we don't want to make any changes. Go ahead and lay 400 to 500 people off. That's wrong and it unacceptable. What we're asking for is, realistically, something that just about every other person in this state and every other person in this country is paying a whole lot more for when it comes to retirement and health care. . ."

He called the unions proposal to compromise on health care and pension pay-ins as a "red herring".

"But you can say anything in the midst of the debate. In December, after I was elected but before I was sworn in, they tried to ram through a bill to push for and to lock in State employee health care and contracts. The bottom line is they can say these things but there are 424 school districts, there are 72 counties, and their are 1000-pluse municipalities in the State. . . all of those can't guarantee the kind of savings that a handful of union leaders are talking about. We can't pass a budget that is going to have over a billion dollar's worth of cuts without giving them the tools to balance those budgets so there aren't layoffs, otherwise we'll end up in a situation like New York or California or other states who are ending up cutting billions of dollars from their schools and local governments without giving them the tools to handle it."

In the interview he also explained how his policy of enacting civil service organizations in every municipality, in addition to those that already existed, would handle the employee grievances that would guarantee worker's rights secured by labor laws in the State.

Walker also held a statewide press conference at 5 PM today, recapping developments in the debate over the weekend and also reinforcing the reasonings behind his stance.

"The 30 million dollars that is included in this Budget Repair Bill is just one piece of the much larger puzzle of balancing this budget and the 300 million dollars in the next biennium in terms of savings for State Government employees is just another piece of it as well. But that 30 million, if we don't get it by starting our health care and pension contributions by April 1st, translates in this budget, which ends on June 30, to the tune of 1500 government workers being laid off. Now that said, I don't want to lay anybody off. The equivalent at the State level for the budget will be 5-to-6000 government employees being laid off and 5-to-6000 local government employees; that's teachers and city workers and county workers and others out there. In this economy, even though our unemployment rate is better than the national average, it's still 7.5% and that's still unacceptable to me. I was elected to get more people working and that's what I've been doing in this first month-and-a-half in office, so I don't want to see anybody laid off. But if the Senate Democrats don't come back, and at least allow us to debate this bill, to consider this bill, to pass this bill, the alternative is just for that 30 million dollars alone we have the equivalent of 1,500 lay-offs."

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