Republicans resorted to a surprise vote at 1:09 a.m. Friday morning to pass the governor’s controversial budget repair bill as Democrats leapt out of their chairs shouting “Shame! Shame!” at the exiting representatives.
Republicans had attempted the quick vote at least two other times earlier in the night, but Democrats, under the vocal leadership of Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, protested and demanded the speaker renounce the votes. The move came after around 61 hours of debate had taken place, largely due to Democrats taking liberty with the length of their speeches. The final count of the vote was 51-17.
Gov. Scott Walker introduced the bill two weeks ago today to address the $137 million budget shortfall. It contained provisions that would provide more executive control over medical assistance, increase state worker contributions to their pensions and health care premiums and severely limit public union members’ rights to collectively bargain.
Union leadership protesting around the Capitol and observing the rallies from across the state over the past two weeks have said they would accept the budget bill provision requiring them to pay more toward pensions and health care premiums, but would not accept losing collective bargaining rights for work conditions and benefits.
“Unions agreed to pay. It’s obvious this isn’t about money. This is about union busting plain and simple,” Rep. Christina Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, said.
In a press conference, Walker said he spoke with a man who asked the governor why he would not just accept the unions’ concession for a 5.6 percent pension and 12 percent health care premium contribution rate and declare victory, leaving unions with the authority to collectively bargain.
“But if you look at the local level over the last two weeks since we’ve introduced this measure, it tells you exactly what is going to happen if we’d just take the five and the 12,” Walker said. “In the past few weeks we’ve seen in school districts, in cities, we’ve seen in technical schools and counties a rush to ram through employee contracts that have not had a five and 12 percent contribution but no additional contribution. Some cases have an increase in a salary.”
He added that the benefit concessions fit in with limits of collective bargaining and one would not be successful in reducing the budget shortfall alone
Republicans never changed their positions on the bill, causing Democrats during the Assembly debate Thursday to claim Republicans would jump off a bridge if Walker jumped first.
Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said that was not true, and mentioned the amendment containing 11 changes to the bill passed by the Joint Finance Committee after 17 hours of public testimony – the longest joint finance hearing on record, he said.
However, thousands of citizens did not get a chance to testify in the 17 hours provided so Democrats started an informal public hearing last Wednesday that still continued on Thursday.
Democrats during the Assembly debate Thursday repeatedly referenced the hours of public testimony they heard and the personal stories people told them in an attempt to convince Republicans they were wrong. But Republican leadership did not budge.
“There was 150 people protesting in my neighborhood this week. My neighbor who I’ve known for years let them protest on his lawn,” Assembly Majority Speaker Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said. “Another neighbor working for the city of Horicon called me. I’m not getting many waves anymore.”
He added he acknowledged there are Republican members who have family members that teach or work for counties, but passing the bill is the right thing to do and there are no other choices.
Teachers across the state, including Senate Majority Leader Sen. Scott Fitzgerald’s, R-Juneau, wife, have already started receiving preliminary layoff notifications districts said are being sent out in anticipation of massive cuts in Walker’s budget. The budget repair bill would not prevent the cuts, but would prevent greater cuts, Walker said.
Now passed by the assembly, the bill still needs to be taken up and passed in the Senate. At least one Democratic senator has to come back for the Senate to proceed, though none of the missing senators have said they are coming back until the provision limiting collective bargaining is removed.