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Wisconsin: Debt Restructuring Can Be Delayed Until April 15

What’s the latest from America’s Dairyland? Well, it’s the same back and forth. Scott Walker selectively released some emails yesterday designed to show he’s acting in good faith, but he’s still not really negotiating, and is unlikely to back down. On a conference call set up by the state AFL-CIO today, Rick Badger (really, the Wisconsin guy is named Badger), the executive director of of AFSCME Council 40, said, “If the governor really wants to negotiate he should set a date and time to sit down and meet with us.” But that hasn’t happened. State Democrats released a new alternative budget repair bill that they say would solve the near-term fiscal problem while removing the non-fiscal “policy pork.” Sen. Mark Miller also delivered a letter which laid out the three options for the near future:

With an agreement between all parties, the bill currently before the Senate could be amended. Limited, preliminary discussions have occurred and, as you know, the Senate Democratic caucus would support modifications that restore collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin workers.

Yesterday, Assembly and Senate Democrats offered a clean slate bill that resolves our fiscal issues and accepts the economic concessions workers have offered to make. Taking up this bill would allow everyone to move forward without anyone having to take back votes or cross lines in the sand.

Or, despite overwhelming public support for a negotiated settlement that preserves worker rights, you could keep lines of communication closed.

So far, it looks like we’re at three. And the Senate officially put through the $100-a-day fines on missing Senate Democrats, a day after pulling them back. They say they just wanted to change the start date.

But two very significant things happened today. First, speaking on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald admitted that the goal for the budget repair bill was not to fix the budget, but to break the unions and deny funding to the Democratic Presidential candidate in a key swing state in 2012.

FITZGERALD: Well if they flip the state senate, which is obviously their goal with eight recalls going on right now, they can take control of the labor unions. If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.

Not that this was in question anyway.

However, a much bigger issue that was in question came closer to getting resolved today. You’ll remember that Scott Walker put an artificial deadline on passage of the budget repair bill. The deadline was tied to a debt restructuring plan that would save the state $165 million in the near term, basically solving the shortfall in the current budget. Walker said this had to be done by last week, or the savings would have to be realized through other means. That was the impetus for the layoff notices that went out.

Well, well. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan analyst, writes today in a memo (via WisPolitics) that the debt restructuring piece does not have to occur until April 15, and that the savings can still be gleaned from it before that point.

The administration indicates that bond counsel is reviewing an option where a prepayment would be made on the amount owed on operating notes, so that the later April 15 date would apply, rather than the earlier March 16 date. Under this approach, the administration would transfer moneys from the cash balances of the general fund to the operating note redemption fund prior to the currently scheduled transfers that would be made to the operating note redemption fund later in this fiscal year. The administration indicates that it is possible that if this early deposit is done, then the later date of April 15 would apply.

If this administrative action would be taken by the Secretary of Administration, it is possible that the earlier timeline could be extended by 30 days. Under this extended timeline, legislative enactment would need to occur in early April, in order to allow time for the debt restructuring transaction to be completed.

This is very significant. This memo completely contradicts what the Walker Administration was saying previously, that they would have to lay people off because of the deadline for debt restructuring. That deadline was actually artificial. And this memo proves it.

What this means is that the “Fab 14” Democratic Senators could stay out of the state for another month and not risk giving up the opportunity for this debt restructuring to take place. Walker tried to use that as a way to get them back to Madison, but it was all a lie.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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