MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's explosive proposal to take nearly all collective bargaining rights away from most public workers represents just one piece of his vision for the state's future. Now he's ready to reveal the rest.
With the union rights proposal stuck in a legislative stalemate thanks to runaway Senate Democrats, Walker planned to forge ahead with the Tuesday release of his two-year spending plan that will include major cuts to schools and local governments to help close a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
Tens of thousands of protesters have demonstrated for two weeks against Walker's collective bargaining proposal, which he calls necessary to free local governments from having to bargain with public employee unions as they deal with the cuts he'll outline Tuesday.
Schools last week started putting teachers on notice that their contracts may not be renewed for next year given the budget uncertainty. Walker has confirmed he will propose cutting education aid by about $900 million, or 9 percent statewide.
"All of this turmoil, all of this chaos, are examples that Walker's proposals are too extreme," said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. She said more than 2,000 teachers had received nonrenewal notices as of Monday.
Labor leaders and Democratic lawmakers say Walker's proposal is intended to undermine unions and weaken a key Democratic voter base. The state's largest public employee union filed a complaint Monday alleging Walker has engaged in unfair labor practices by refusing to negotiate.
The Wisconsin State Employees Union complaint asked the state labor relations board to extend its contract and require Walker's administration to engage in collective bargaining.
Walker insists Wisconsin is broke and has nothing to offer. He spent another day touring the state Monday, renewing his threat of deeper cuts and layoffs if his proposal isn't passed by Tuesday. If the state misses that deadline, it won't be able to save $165 million through debt refinancing, which was a key part of his bill, Walker said.
Walker has warned he will start issuing layoff notices to state workers as soon as this week if the bill isn't passed, but he hasn't said who would be targeted.
School leaders are bracing for more bad news.
The governor is expected Tuesday to announce a new revenue limit that would require a $500 per-pupil reduction in property tax authority. The limits, in place since 1993, have gradually grown to reflect increasing education costs. That part of Walker's proposal alone would reduce the money available to the state's 424 districts by 7 percent, or nearly $600 million, based on a study done by University of Wisconsin-Madison economics professor Andrew Reschovsky.
"When you make unprecedented and historic cuts like these to schools, it means teachers are laid off, class sizes are larger, course offerings are reduced, extracurricular activities are cut, and whole parts of what we value in our schools are gone," state superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement.
In Janesville, a district with about 10,000 students, the school expects to get about a $5 million cut in aid, said David Parr, president of the local teachers union.
The district already is considering laying off up to 60 of its teachers to deal with a nearly $10 million budget deficit this year, Parr said. The teachers also have been asked to re-open contracts that are in effect until mid-2013, he said.
"If we don't reopen the contract, that means they would have to cut teachers," Parr said. "That's the bottom line. There aren't a lot of options left."
An analysis by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards determined the changes stripping workers' collective bargaining rights wouldn't take effect until an existing agreement expires or is extended, modified or renewed.
Teachers in Racine are terrified to reopen their contracts, Parr said.
"The whole district is walking on eggshells," Parr said. "Teachers are upset, aides are upset, the administration is upset, school board members are upset."
A large state aid cut also could force Milwaukee Public Schools, the state's largest district, to lay off teachers. Their four-year contract runs until 2013. Reschovsky's analysis says the district stands to lose $60 million under Walker's revenue limit reduction alone.
A spokesman for the district declined to comment.
Wisconsin's average teacher salary of about $48,000 ranks in the top half of states nationally, though it remains significantly behind the $60,000 average salaries in the top-paying states of California and Connecticut, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Wisconsin students also rank in the top half nationally on standardized tests, scoring a full percentage point better on the ACT college entrance exam.
Walker's stalled collective bargaining proposal would require state workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries toward pensions and double their health insurance contribution beginning April 1. Those changes would be expanded to nearly all other public workers, except those operating under existing union contracts, beginning July 1.
The higher benefit contribution would equate to an 8 percent pay decrease for the average worker. The state would save $30 million this fiscal year and $300 million over the next two years.
Walker said not realizing those savings would mean laying off 1,500 workers between now and July and 12,000 state and local employees over the next two years.
The statewide teachers union and state workers unions, in an attempt to compromise with Walker, have said they will agree to the benefit concessions as long as they retain collective bargaining rights. The bill takes away collective bargaining except over wage increases that don't go above the rate of inflation.
The 14 Senate Democrats who fled the state to block a vote on Walker's measure say his unwillingness to deal motivates them to stay away. The bill passed the Assembly on Friday following a three-day filibuster.
"There's a compromise here, I just really think there is," Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin said Monday. "We continue to seek it."
Associated Press writers Dave Lieb in Madison and Dinesh Ramde in Chicago contributed to this report.
03/07/2011 5:01 PM EST
The Atlantic reports that at one town hall meeting in Wisconsin, one GOP state senator faced "loud opposition" to a proposed compromise.
03/04/2011 1:04 AM EST
Judge Orders Protesters Out Of Capitol
About 50 pro-union protesters peacefully left the state Capitol late Thursday after a judge ruled they could no longer spend the night to show their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to eliminate nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.
The judge also ruled the state had violated the public's free speech and assembly rights by restricting access to the building.
03/03/2011 5:00 PM EST
Layoff Notices To Come Friday
AP reports that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will issue layoff notices to 1,500 state employees Friday if his union bill doesn't pass by then:
Walker also said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is negotiating with Democrats who stymied passage of the bill by leaving the state for changes to the proposal that would get them to return. Walker said he won't compromise on the collective bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.
"I can't take any of that off the table," he said.
03/03/2011 11:16 AM EST
New Research Numbers
HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal writes:
A new survey released this morning by the Pew Research Center is the first to provide a clear before-and-after snapshot of national attitudes toward labor unions in the wake of the ongoing protests and budget conflict in Wisconsin:
The public’s overall views of labor unions have changed little through the lengthy stalemate between Wisconsin’s governor and the state’s public employee unions over collective bargaining rights. About half (47%) say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions compared with 39% who have an unfavorable opinion. In early February, 45% expressed a favorable opinion of unions and 41% said they had an unfavorable view. However, liberal Democrats and people in union households are more likely to say they have a very favorable opinion of labor unions than they were just weeks ago.
See the Pew Research report for their complete analysis and full results by party, ideology and union membership subgroups. The Pew Center had also conducted an in-depth survey on unions in early February, just before Walker released the budget bill that sparked the protests.
03/02/2011 6:42 PM EST
Man Cited For Unplugging Fox Equipment
The City of Madison has filed a police report charging a 23-year-old man for "disorderly conduct" after he unplugged extension cords from a Fox News vehicle. Read the full report here.
03/02/2011 6:00 PM EST
West Virginia Approves Pay Hikes For Public Workers
Adding another state into the debate on public workers, West Virginia's Herald-Dispatch reports:
West Virginia's public employees would reap pay raises averaging 2 percent this year, with a second year of increases promised to teachers and school workers, under a proposal advanced Wednesday to the state Senate by the House.
But the 78-22 vote reflected GOP-led concerns that increasing state spending threatens a stable budgetary picture that has so far allowed West Virginia to avoid deficits and the painful choices they can force. Foes also contrasted the pay hikes with the state's continuing unemployment woes.
Full story here.
03/02/2011 5:44 PM EST
Update: Ohio Bill Would Jail Striking Librarians
More details have surfaced on Ohio's controversial SB 5, which just passed the state senate.
Senate Bill 5 would prohibit public-employee unions representing teachers, librarians, toll collectors and others from bargaining over health benefits, pensions and working conditions. Under the bill, unions could still negotiate wages, but striking would be prohibited for all public workers, taking away a major bargaining chip. Workers could face a fine of up to $1,000, or 30 days in jail, if they go on strike.
A Twitter campaign, #standupOH, has already mounted. As user @escapetochengdu tweeted, "The bill that just passed Ohio Senate allows the government to jail striking librarians for 30 days. Despicable."
Read the whole Wall Street Journal story here.
03/02/2011 5:25 PM EST
Ohio Senate Passes Controversial Anti-Union Bill
The bill put forth by an Ohio panel earlier today has passed the state senate, TPM reports:
The Ohio State Senate just passed the controversial SB 5, aimed a limiting unionized state employees' ability to collectively bargain or go on strike.
In an indication of how divisive the legislation is in the Buckeye State, the final vote in the Senate was 17-16.
Gov. John Kasich (R) has endorsed the measure and is expected to sign it when it reaches his desk.
Full story here.
03/02/2011 5:18 PM EST
'Runaway Senator' Tourism Campaign Goes Viral
A tourism campaign leveraging the Wisconsin senators who fled to Rockford, Illinois has gone viral. The push, "Hide Away In Rockford," hawks "collectively bargained" rates to some of the town's best tourist attractions.
“Unlike Wisconsin’s state senators, this video isn’t low key; it’s been a real runaway hit," said Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB) President/CEO John Groh of the campaign's success.
Watch the promotional video here.
03/02/2011 4:48 PM EST
Polls: Polarized Wisconsin Leans Toward Unions
HuffPost's resident pollster Mark Blumenthal reports:
WASHINGTON -- A automated telephone poll conducted this week in Wisconsin by the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) largely confirms other recent polls showing public support for collective bargaining rights for unions and, by a narrow margin, more opposition than support for the agenda of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Some caution is in order, however, about several vote preference questions included in the same survey.
Despite the ongoing coverage and national interest in the controversy, all of the opinion surveys taken within Wisconsin so far have had sponsors with partisan ties, and each has taken a different approach to the questions asked. Where their questions have been similar, however, we can begin to compare the results.
Read more here.
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