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In Wisconsin, Budget Repair Bill Passes Committee; Mass Teacher Walkouts Planned

(photo: Mary Bottari; used by permission of the artist)

Last night, the Joint Finance Committee passed the budget repair bill in Wisconsin, which includes the stripping away of collective bargaining rights for public employees, by a party-line vote of 12-4. The bill could get votes as soon as today in the Assembly and Senate.

Prior to passage, Republicans added amendments to the bill, which they said addressed the concerns that led to the mass protests this week. But these amendments were cosmetic at best. They extended civil service protections to public employees who saw their rights stripped away by the bill, and set up a grievance system under those civil service laws for complaints. But even with the amendments, all other collective bargaining rights would be stripped other than salary, pay could only be raised as high as the Consumer Price Index on an annual basis, public employee unions would have to recertify every year, they wouldn’t be able to collect dues through their employing units, and employees would be allowed to opt out of paying union dues (which they can currently under federal law, I believe, but this would make it far more explicit).

Democrats attempted an amendment to take all non-budget policy pieces out of the repair bill, as determined by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, who saw no fiscal impact in nine items, including the collective bargaining changes. But it failed on a party-line vote. Members of the Joint Finance Committee warned Republicans about what they were doing.

But Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, said that’s not what the outrage on display the last two days from union employees is about. He said union employees are willing to make the extra contributions Gov. Walker is asking for to help balance the budget.

“The goal (of the budget repair bill) is to eliminate collective bargaining,” he said. “You don’t need to end collective bargaining to solve the economic problem.”

Rep. Jen Shilling, D-La Crosse, called this a “transformational week.”

“And it’s not over yet. It is not over yet,” Shilling said. “This is going to have a ripple effect. They (the electorate) are not going to forget about this. This is going to be seared into their memory.”

Republicans in the Senate and Assembly think they have the votes to pass this amended budget repair bill. But activists will be out in force to try and stop that today. Many stayed overnight in the Capitol. Multiple school districts cancelled classes today after the Wisconsin Education Association Council called for a statewide walkout. Buses are coming in early from all parts of the state to Madison. MSNBC’s Ed Schultz will broadcast live from the Capitol tonight. Newspapers from around the state have editorials opposing Walker and the bill.

Organizers hope to double the 30,000 protesters that came out yesterday. Some Republicans quoted have said that they’re paying attention to their constituents who stayed home, an echo of Nixon’s silent majority. We’ll see if they can stand up to the pressure. The real action is in the State Senate, where Republicans have only a 19-14 advantage. They have an overwhelming majority in the State Assembly.

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David Dayen

David Dayen