Bill stalls as workers rallySenators in hiding and statewide protests capped a day of unrest caused by Gov. Walker’s proposed budget repair bill, which would end collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Senators in hiding and statewide protests capped a day of unrest caused by Gov. Walker’s proposed budget repair bill, which would end collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
From the steps of the Douglas County Courthouse to the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus, citizens have rallied to protest.
“This isn’t a budget repair bill,” said Tom Wiberg, president of AFSCME Local 42 during a rally at UWS Thursday. “It’s a union-busting bill, pure and simple.”
Critics say the bill, unveiled a week ago, is being pushed through on the fast track, with voting scheduled to take place in the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly by the end of the week.
“When someone tries to pass something in five or six days, it’s not right,” said Kris Leopold, a teacher with the Superior School District, during a Wednesday march.
Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, said he was floored when Republican members of the Joint Finance Committee voted to cut of citizen testimony on the bill at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. They voted on the bill later in the day, passing it to the Senate, although Democratic members of the committee continued to hear citizen concerns.
“To be able to petition your government is a freedom in the First Amendment,” Milroy said. “You may not agree with all people, but you hear both sides.”
The bill was derailed Thursday by Democratic senators, including Bob Jauch, D-Poplar. The 14 senators left the state for Illinois instead of attending an afternoon legislative session which led to a lack of quorum, essentially preventing a vote on the bill.
Walker sent out a call for them to return at 2:51 p.m.
“Out of respect for the institution of the Legislature and the democratic process, I am calling on Senate Democrats to show up to work today, debate legislation and cast their vote,” he said in the media release. “Their actions by leaving the state and hiding from voting are disrespectful to the hundreds of thousands of public employees who showed up to work today and the millions of taxpayers they represent.”
Jauch responded with a press release of his own, accusing Walker of not listening to his constituents.
“Tens of thousands of citizens have petitioned legislative offices to change the bill,” he wrote. “I agree with them. They deserve more time to ensure their voice is heard.”
The bill would change 50 years of workers’ rights in Wisconsin, Jauch said in a phone conversation Thursday, and it was worth “taking a couple extra days to make sure we’re on the right side of history, on the right side of workers’ rights.”
He confirmed they were all out of state, and would return to Madison in a day or two.
“I am joining my Senate Democratic colleagues to exercise our role to slow this process down and give citizens further opportunity to affect positive changes to this radical plan,” he said.
Walker has said the bill is necessary to close a budget shortfall of $137 million and a looming $3.6 billion deficit in the next two-year budget.
Todd Berry, president of the non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, spoke about the condition of state finances during a breakfast meeting in Superior Wednesday.
“The state has had financial problems for 10-15 years at least,” he said. After years of kicking the can forward and stopping up budget leaks with one-time tobacco funds, stimulus checks or fund transfers, the check has come due. Those practices leave Wisconsin heading into the next biennium budget with close to $1.5 in structural deficit caused by fund transfers and accounting tricks that must be paid back.
“The problem is, we’ve already spent it,” Berry said. And in the last two legislative sessions, he said, all the easy tax pickings – tobacco tax increases, taxes on the rich, taxes on businesses – have been implemented.
Although the state collects taxes, Berry said, more than 50 percent of that money flows right back out to cities, counties and schools. Add in Medicaid and corrections, he said, and only about 20 percent of tax money is spent on state government operations.
“There’s no way you can close the gap if you do it by cutting state agencies,” Berry said. “You’ve got to go where the money is – schools, aids to cities and Medicaid.”
He calls the budget repair bill an example of dropping one shoe before the other shoe drops. To get cost relief, Berry said, it comes down to benefit changes versus layoffs.
To the hundreds of citizens who filled the streets of Superior Wednesday and attended the rally at UWS Thursday, the bill is an attack.
“This has nothing to do with balancing the budget,” Superior teacher Kristan Trianoski said during the Thursday event. “This is a power play.”
The bill would increase the amount public workers will pay for benefits like health insurance and pension plans, give the administration more control over the Medicaid system and strip collective bargaining from nearly all public employees.
“It’s not about money,” said Julie Schmidt of Superior. “It’s about rights.” While her job isn’t affected, she marched in solidarity with her neighbors and friends Wednesday.
“I just believe it’s an attack on families,” Schmidt said, that would have a domino effect.
A number of Superior High School students attended both Wednesday’s march and Thursday’s rally.
“We came out here because this is unfair,” said Crystal Chaney, 14.
“I’m a teen, I know that, but I guess I have a voice too,” said Nick Martineau, an SHS freshman.