A reader writes:
The reason I'm in the streets here in Madison aren't about unions or dealing with deficits. I'm a state employee (at the UW) who is fine with paying more for my pension and health care - I feel blessed to have both. But this governor is a train wreck. He came into office with a surplus for the current budget year and promptly passed over $100m in tax cuts. He designed this "budget repair bill" with NO negotiations with either unions or the minority party. That in itself wouldn't be so bad, but he then sent it to the legislature with directives to pass it in a week. Think of that - a major bill restructuring pay and collective bargaining for hundreds of thousands, written with no negotiations and passed in a week. No wonder we're pissed.
I am no big fan of public sector unions, but I was still a bit shocked by your characterization of the proposed legislation. The bill would make it illegal for the union to negotiate on any issue other than wages, and when negotiating on wages they could not be allowed to negotiate any raises in real (inflation adjusted) dollars. This is not "renegotiating some deals" this is completely eliminating the union's role in negotiating contracts. I could support legislation that restricts the role of public sector unions in dictating work rules, promotion standards, or ability to fire workers - such rules compromise the quality of public sector services - but preventing unions from negotiating wages and benefits is pure union-busting.
The new Governor and Legislature passed business tax cuts that took the current budget from black to red to create an exploitable crisis. The collective bargaining agreement that existed had expired and been extended and the Governor exercised the option to cancel the extension with 30 days notice. The Governor made no effort to negotiate or ask for concessions, even though a number of the unions had expressed a willingness negotiate including increasing the share they paid for their benefits.
Instead the Governor and the Legislature have used the created budget crisis as a justification for unilaterally instituting cuts by increasing the share paid for benefits, changing the law such that it will be impossible to organize due to being unable to collect dues/creating free riding issues, forbidding organizations from collectively negotiating and requiring that any raise beyond CPI would need to be approved by a referendum.
Collectively this appears more about punishing a political constituency that didn't support you than trying to solve a budget issue. Especially when you realize that the four unions (law enforcement and police unions) that are exempt from these changes are the only four that endorsed Walker.
I don't think I've ever disagreed with you on an issue this much.
The Wisconsin state government is in debt. That's clear and indisputable. Except that Governor Walker passed a bill lowering taxes, adding more to Wisconsin's debt. And, Wisconsin was doing pretty well until the recession when, cyclically, tax revenues fell but expenditures stayed the same. But instead of asking for a temporary decrease in salary or temporary increase in benefits contributions by employees, Walker is using the immediate crisis to enact long-term structural change. He's trying to permanently remove collective bargaining. This isn't to say that public workers shouldn't have some cuts. This isn't to say that public employee unions aren't different than private employee unions, because they are. But don't you think that public employee unions should have a little more job security than the whim of legislators and voters when they're doing vital jobs, like, you know, teaching our children and keeping our neighborhoods safe?
But really, for someone who's chastised today's GOP for not engaging with Obama, who's held Obama in esteem for his willingness to compromise, I am dumbstruck that when a Governor refuses to speak with legislators of the opposing party you suddenly think it's alright. The Democrats had no choice but to run away. It's a de facto filibuster, doing what a filibuster is meant to do - protecting the voice of the minority against the majority. Now, if the Democrats refuse to compromise at all and refuse to allow any cuts to public employees, then I'll be back on your side because they're doing what Republican Senators did to the US Senate 2008-2010.
A final reader:
Running away is pathetic? Maybe so, but Wisconsin law demands 20 people on hand to form a quorum. Presumably there are reasons for that provision of the law. Might one of those reasons be to enable the supermajority requirement to be triggered by a minority that feels sufficiently aggrieved? You say the Democrats should try winning an election instead of running away. Fourteen of them did win elections. Do the views of their constituents not matter at all simply because 19 is a bigger number than 14? You might as well say to the Republicans that they ought to try winning over ONE member of the other party with a bit of compromise. Or if they don't want to compromise, they ought try winning 20 seats instead of 19.
What you call running away, others call a fillibuster.