State Government and Political Roundup: Appeals court scheduled Oct. 4 hearing in regards to union limitsWisconsin News
-- An appeals court has scheduled an October fourth hearing on the state’s request to temporarily restore public union bargaining limits for local governments and schools.
MADISON - An appeals court has scheduled an October fourth hearing on the state’s request to temporarily restore public union bargaining limits for local governments and schools.
Those limits were struck down a week ago by Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas, who said they were unconstitutional. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has asked that the union law stay in effect while he challenges the ruling in the higher courts. Meanwhile, the Dane County Board in Madison voted 29-8 last night in favor of a one-year extension of full union contracts for county employees, through 2015. The two sides scrambled to negotiate the extension, because they didn’t know how long the judge’s decision would remain in effect. County Executive Joe Parisi says the deal includes the county’s own plan for cutting personnel costs if need be, with things like furloughs and an unpaid voluntary leave program. But one of the supervisors who voted no, David Wiganowsky, says the deal appears to be more of a political favor than a contract extension.
The labor council that represents Milwaukee city, county, and school employees had also asked for new contract talks in the wake of the court ruling. But Milwaukee County deputy corporation counsel Mark Grady says the impact of the ruling is not as big as many people think. For county workers, Grady says it only affects the size of the pay raises that employees can negotiate for. The union law only allows bargaining for raises at-or-below inflation – and it stopped giving workers a say on benefits and work conditions. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance said earlier this week that the ruling does not affect the higher payments all public workers are making toward their health care and pensions – with Milwaukee County pension payments being the only exception.
Wisconsin school administrators will meet today, and try to make sense of last Friday’s court ruling which struck down parts of the state law that limited most public union bargaining. Some superintendents and teachers’ unions say they’ll wait to see how the issue is played out when the state challenges the ruling in the appellate courts. Other groups, like the Madison and Merrill teachers’ unions, have asked their bosses to get contract talks going before the bargaining law could be put back into place. An appeals court will hold a hearing October fourth on the state’s request to restore the law while the full appeal is being considered. Yesterday, state public school Superintendent Tony Evers said during his annual education address that teachers have been unfairly targeted in the battle over collective bargaining. Evers said all Wisconsinites should be alarmed when teachers are not valued and respected in their communities. As he put it, “No other profession is more responsible for securing our economic future.” Evers opposed the union limits, but he later worked with Governor Scott Walker on a number of education reforms. And Walker’s office responded to Evers’ address by saying quote, “transforming education will continue to be one of Governor Walker’s top priorities in the next state budget.” After his address, Evers said he would not comment on last week’s court ruling. He expects to hear more about it today at the conference of school administrators. Evers does say schools are taking a “real toll” financially, and he’ll keep pushing for changes in the state aid system.
Most of Wisconsin’s government retirees can expect a reduction in benefits for the fifth straight year – and if current investment trends continue, the cuts could be the deepest yet. Officials said yesterday that payments to those in the Wisconsin Retirement System could drop 9-to-15 percent, according to projections from actuaries. It all goes back to the investment losses that the state fund suffered when U-S financial markets melted down in 2008. The oldest retirees have taken the biggest cuts. But Employee Trust Funds Secretary Bob Conlin said it could all change in 2014, when the worst effects of the 2008 meltdown will finally disappear if the markets don’t take a big tumble in the next few months. He expects benefits to rise in ’14, and officials are not recommending changes in the state’s pension funds. The state retirement fund covers state employees, plus local government and school employees outside of the city and county of Milwaukee, which have their own pension systems. Meanwhile, those working for governments covered by the state system will pay more toward their retirement next year. The total increase will rise from 11-point-eight percent of payrolls to 13-point-three. The change is expected to bring in an extra one-point-seven billion dollars for retirees. Employers and their workers each pay 50-percent. But many unions had their employers cover the workers’ share until the union bargaining limits set last year, which called for split payments on each side.
Governor Scott Walker is meeting with Chinese investors in Texas this morning, apparently to check out the possibilities for boosting Wisconsin’s economy. Walker joined Texas Governor Rick Perry and Florida Governor Rick Scott in meetings at Cowboys Stadium near Dallas. Walker was joined by Paul Jadin, the outgoing head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation who announced yesterday that he’s resigning next month to head a regional economic group in Madison. The governor’s office said Walker left last night, and he plans to hold a news conference at the stadium late Friday morning before he flies home in the afternoon.