GOP eyes budget bill for anti-collective bargaining law
JESSICA VANEGEREN| The Capital Times|
Get ready, protesters. The collective bargaining bill could soon be back before the Legislature.
Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Thursday that while the “preferred avenue” for implementing the collective bargaining bill is still the state courts, there is a “possibility” the bill will be inserted into the 2011-2013 state budget.
“There is a possibility, and it has been informally discussed among Republican leadership, including the Joint Finance Committee co-chairs, that if the matter can’t be fully decided on by the Supreme Court, then it will be inserted into the full budget,” Welhouse told The Capital Times.
The legality of the bill, which would strip most collective bargaining rights from state employees, was challenged by Dane County District Attorney Ozanne Ismael on the grounds a special conference committee violated the state’s open meetings law when it approved the collective bargaining bill on March 9.
The lawmakers gave less than two hours notice before commencing the 6 p.m. hearing. State law requires 24.
Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi blocked the law from being implemented while the legal challenge is being hashed out. Putting the collective bargaining provisions in the budget would sidestep the open meetings issue, allowing the bill to become law.
The move also could get a highly controversial topic resolved and out of the public arena at a time when six Senate Republicans are facing recall elections over their previous vote in favor of the bill.
They are Alberta Darling of River Hills; Robert Cowles of Green Bay; Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac; Dan Kapanke of La Crosse; Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Luther Olsen of Ripon.
“I think there will be a real rush to get the Walker agenda through before the recall elections are held,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona. “And I won’t be surprised if it happened soon. Republicans want to destroy the unions because it is politically advantageous for them. Unions are the only group strong enough to stand up against the WMC.”
In recent years, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, or WMC, has raised and spent millions on behalf of Republican candidates and conservative Supreme Court candidates, while unions have been big givers to Democrats.
Assembly Minority Leader, Peter Barca of Kenosha, said he would be surprised if collective bargaining was added to the budget bill.
He cited the fact Gov. Scott Walker admitted under oath before a Congressional hearing that restricting collective bargaining rights would not save the state money as well as the mounting number of Republicans facing recall elections as his reasons.
“It would be a political miscalculation if they were to take away collective bargaining rights,” Barca said.
Despite the recall effort against her, Darling, a Joint Finance Committee co-chair, told WisPolitics in an interview earlier this week she would vote again for the collective bargaining bill. She also said the bill has enough votes to pass the Senate.
In addition to the Republican senators facing recall elections, three Democratic senators are as well.
Wednesday, officials with the Government Accountability Board filed a motion in Dane County Circuit Court requesting one statewide recall election date be held on July 12.
If Democrats come out of that election with a net total of three Senate seats, they will have control of the Senate. Currently, Republicans are in control of both houses.
“I think there’s a good chance we’ll pick up three seats,” Miller said.
Democratic control of the Senate would also spell changes on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee by giving Democrats more seats, including a co-chair position. Right now, the split is 12-4.
Given Democrats adamantly oppose the restrictions to collective bargaining rights, if the bill remained mired in the courts and Democrats gain control of the Senate, it would no longer stand a chance of passing the Legislature.
Since the open meetings issue has the collective bargaining issue tied up in court, the budget could be the quickest avenue for implementing the measure into law, putting the matter to rest before a possible July 12 recall election date.
A repeat of the prolonged protests at the state Capitol that followed Walker’s announcement of his effort to curtail collective bargaining in February could pose an electoral pitfall for the GOP.
In the spring Supreme Court election, liberal challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg came close to unseating conservative incumbent David Prosser, an unexpectedly strong showing that was driven by a mobilized Democratic base.
A return of the collective bargaining bill likely would lead to another round of rallies at the Capitol, Miller said.
Welhouse dismissed the potential for renewed protests as a factor in inserting the measure into the budget.
“This budget was not developed with politics in mind,” Welhouse said. “It was designed because we think this is the right way forward for a state that has gotten off track.”
Welhouse said there are two ways the collective bargaining bill could be inserted into the budget.
He said the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee could pass the 2011-2013 budget and the collective bargaining bill could be added as an amendment once it hits the Assembly floor for debate, or a finance committee member could insert it into the bill through a motion before sending it out of committee.
Lawmakers could, however, give proper 24-hour notice and vote on the bill in conference committee, as it was last time around.
“The mechanism for this happening has not been fleshed out yet,” Welhouse said.