State Budget News: Legislature convenes again, extra police called in from around WisconsinWisconsin News
-- Only two entrances are open at the State Capitol today, as lawmakers get ready to debate the budget repair bill. The Walker administration says visitors must use the East and North entrances – and officers are stationed there to monitor the crowd levels. Hundreds of police officers from throughout Wisconsin were called to Madison to help with the security.
MADISON - Only two entrances are open at the State Capitol today, as lawmakers get ready to debate the budget repair bill. The Walker administration says visitors must use the East and North entrances – and officers are stationed there to monitor the crowd levels. Hundreds of police officers from throughout Wisconsin were called to Madison to help with the security.
People can watch the Assembly’s debate over the budget measure, which has drawn massive protests over its limits on public union bargaining powers. But visitors to the Assembly chamber are going through metal detectors for the first time since protestors started camping out at the Capitol early last week. Two dozen state troopers were stationed at the entrance to the Assembly chamber this morning, and another couple dozen at the Senate chamber.
Wisconsin senators went into recess late this morning, after all 19 Republicans acted on several measures without their 14 Democratic colleagues being present. The GOP vowed to act on non-fiscal measures, after the Democrats all ran off to Illinois. They’re blocking a vote on the governor’s budget measures which, among other things, would limit public union bargaining powers. The GOP senators voted unanimously to extend state tax credits for dairy and livestock farms. They confirmed the governor’s appointment of Eloise Anderson as the new secretary of Children-and-Families. And they voted 19-0 to salute the Green Bay Packers for their Super Bowl victory – something Green Bay Democrat Dave Hansen wanted to be on hand for. Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) made sure the Democrats’ absences were duly recorded. At the start of the session he asked members quote, “When you pray silently today, pray that everyone keeps a level head.”
Meanwhile in Indiana, House Democrats took a page from their Wisconsin brethren – and they ran for the Illinois and Kentucky borders to stop a vote on collective bargaining limits in the Hoosier State.
The Federation of Labor in south central Wisconsin has voted to prepare for a general strike if Governor Scott Walker gets his way on limiting public union powers. Carl Aniel of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees tells the Wisconsin State Journal that both union and non-union employees would have to stop working in governments, schools, and private businesses. But he said it does not mean that everyone would be out at a particular time. Some services could be shut down, but Aniel said critical life-and-death services would not be affected. Public employee strikes have been illegal in Wisconsin since the 1970’s, after a long and emotional walkout by school teachers in Hortonville. The South Central Federation of Labor includes 97 unions in the Madison area.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson told students at Madison East High School this morning to vote, stay in school, and support their teachers. About 300 students, parents, and staff members marched with Jackson as the school re-opened. The audience grew to about 800 when Jackson began to speak. Madison schools were closed since last Wednesday while teachers called in sick to protest the governor’s proposed limits on public union bargaining. Jackson told students that when they come alive, quote, “You have the awesome power to make America better.” Madison East social studies teacher Sarah Motl said she couldn’t think of a better way to return to school than to quote, “walk with the students and Jesse Jackson.”
This morning, Republican Governor Scott Walker said he would start handing out layoff notices next week to up to 1,500 state employees. He says the state won’t have the money to pay them if lawmakers don’t approve his plan to fix the current budget deficit by Saturday. Senate Democrat Jon Erpenbach of Middleton said he was “dumb-founded” by the stance taken by Walker and other Republicans. The Assembly majority leader says Democrats and public unions have a choice between taking union concessions, or watching hundreds of their workers lose their jobs. But Democrats say the choice should be to restore the union powers that would be lost in the budget bill. Walker says state and local governments can’t afford that – especially after the locals get much less in state aid starting next year But the Republican Walker told WISC-TV in Madison that any layoffs would not be able to take effect immediately. Spokesman Cullen Werwie says there’s a process that would have to be carried out first. Democrats say Walker’s causing the problem, by insisting that most public employee unions give up the majority of their bargaining rights. But Walker says the state doesn’t have the money to maintain the status quo. And Fitzgerald says it’s the Democrats and the unions who will have to decide whether to take the bargaining concessions, or let thousands of their state-and-local workers lose their jobs. The administration says layoffs would be necessary if the budget bill is not passed by Saturday, since the current budget would end up $100-million-dollars in the hole. That’s because the state would not be able to complete a re-financing of state debt that’s part of the bill.
Assembly Democrats plan to bring up over 100 amendments to the budget bill today. Minority leader Peter Barca of Kenosha says Republicans certainly cannot support quote, “the dozens of hidden costs and hurtful provisions” in the bill. Among other things, Barca cited the possible loss of $47-million in federal transit aid – and giving health officials the power to scale back Medicaid programs for the poor and elderly. Meanwhile, GOP Senate leaders hope to lure Democrats back by taking up non-fiscal bills their party opposes – like making voters show photo IDs at the polls. Today, leaders say they’ll take up a resolution honoring the Super Bowl champion Packers.
A union leader for Wisconsin’s prison officers says National Guard troops have toured the prison at Red-granite – presumably to get ready to take it over if the state guards walk out. But Larry Wright of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees re-affirmed that prison officers would not strike or call in sick to protest union cutbacks. Governor Scott Walker said when he introduced the budget repair bill that the National Guard would be ready if correctional officers don’t show up for work. Yesterday, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie confirmed the Guard’s visit to Red-granite. But he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel it was a routine visit so the Guard could see how the prisons operate in case of problems – and it was not contingency planning for a walkout. But Wright tells the paper he’s never heard of such a visit by the National Guard in his 10 years as a guard at Red-granite. And union president Bob McLinn said he’s never heard of such a thing in his 27 years as an officer.
The 14 Senate Democrats who fled to Illinois to block a vote on the state’s budget repair bill might have their expenses paid by campaign donors – with thousands left over for their re-election bids. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says over $300,000 have been donated in recent days to the State Senate’s Democratic Committee. A national political action committee called “Act Blue” is funneling over 12,000 donations from throughout the country. But Kory Kozlowski of the Senate’s Democratic campaign fund says most of the donors have come from Wisconsinites who were asked to pay $14-dollars each – a buck for each of the senators who are still gone. They’ve been on the road since last Thursday, but Kozlowski is not sure if the campaign donations will eventually cover their hotels-and-such. Right now, that money’s coming out of their own pockets. Middleton Democrat Jon Erpenbach has promised they won’t stick taxpayers with the bill. Republicans are also trying to cash in on the controversy too. The state GOP has ads asking donors to quote, “Stand with Walker Now.” And Wisconsin’s Reince Priebus – who chairs the Republican National Committee – has asked for donations to its campaign fund. Priebus says the fight is in Wisconsin today but quote, “Soon it will be nationwide.” The Assembly is scheduled to start debating the budget today along with its main bone of contention – the proposed restrictions on public union bargaining power.
The State Medical Society says it’s reviewing the doctors who gave out thousands of medical excuses to State Capitol protestors who skipped work. The conservative MacIver Institute broke the story after videotaping the doctors last Saturday from its offices across the street. The Medical Society said that if the reports are true, it does not condone the doctors’ actions under any circumstances. One of the doctors, Lou Sanner of UW Health in Madison, said the protestors looked like they had a lot of stress – and excuses were not given on a “nod and a wink.” UW Health said the doctors apparently acted on their own, and they’re investigating. The Madison School District says it’s getting the names of the doctors involved, and they’ll investigate all excuses presented by the teachers who called in sick for four days. Schools are re-opening in Madison today after being closed since last Wednesday. The Milwaukee Public Schools say their human resources department is checking each medical excuse carefully. Spokeswoman Rosanne Saint Aubin says there will be no “rubber stamp.” But Marquette law professor Paul Secunda says the teachers and others who received the notes should be on solid legal ground if they have doctors standing behind them.
The budget package is meant to cover a deficit of $137 million in the current state budget that expires June 30th. Republican Governor Scott Walker says it’s needed to bring labor costs down – and to help state and local governments and schools deal with big drops in state aid in the next two years. But the unions say it’s a direct attack on them. National groups helped organize the protests, and have joined them. But Walker warned them yesterday that he’ll side with quote, “the hard-working taxpayers of Wisconsin” whom he says agree with him. Walker will further state his case directly to Wisconsinites tonight at six o’clock. It will be on the Wisconsin Eye cable channel. Among the amendments the Assembly will consider today would keep union rights for transit workers, after the U.S Labor Department said it might pull over $40-million in aid to local bus systems if they change their bargaining arrangements. But GOP finance chair Robin Vos (R-Burlington) calls that a “gray area.” And he’ll work to kill that change.
The toll-free hotline for Wisconsinites to get in touch with their legislators is temporarily disconnected. It’s been shut down since Friday, due to the crush of calls from people weighing in on the proposed public union cutbacks. The Assembly Chief Clerk’s office said an outside group forwarded all of its calls to the hotline – and it triggered a charge of 10-cents-a-minute to the state. Officials say the hotline will be re-connected sometime soon. And for now, people can call their legislators’ offices directly. Democrats slammed the hotline’s shutdown. Milwaukee Representative Tamara Grigsby called it quote, “another example of the GOP attempting to silence the public.” She also scolded Republican lawmakers for cutting off public hearings. And she accused Assembly leaders of trying to vote on the budget repair bill last Friday just moments before the house was scheduled to go into session. Yesterday, Democratic Assembly Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) accused the GOP of breaking the state Open Meetings Law by starting the meeting before its scheduled five p.m. time on Friday. John Jagler, a spokesman for Majority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald, called that claim “laughable.” Media attorney Bob Dreps said Barca has a case – but it’s not worth pursuing, since the GOP agreed to start the debate over from scratch this morning.