WASHINGTON -- In a bold gambit to put an end to the weeks-long budget standoff in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) split his controversial budget-repair bill in two on Wednesday, allowing the Senate to pass the most hotly contested provisions while their 14 Democratic colleagues remained out of state.
The parliamentary maneuver, first reported by local press, enabled the Senate to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers without the quorum required to approve fiscal legislation.
It was also a 180-degree reversal by Walker and state Senate Republicans, who have insisted for the past three weeks that the collective bargaining provision was designed to help alleviate the state’s budget problems. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) had previously said he would not attempt to pass any portions of the bill without Democrats present.
Wisconsin Democrats decried the move as an unprecedented and blatant end-run, but it was clear that they were powerless to stop it. Indeed, it took the conference committee only a matter of minutes to pass the severed off measure by a four-to-two vote. Minutes later, the same bill passed through the entire Senate by an 18-1 margin, with Sen. Dale Schultz, a Republican moderate who had proposed a compromise measure, lodging the only no vote.
Justin Sargent, a staffer to Senator Chris Larson (D-Wis.) called the maneuver completely unexpected. It showed, he added, that this “obviously wasn’t about any kind of financing, it was an attack on working families.”
Sargent would not say whether his boss was en route back from Illinois but noted, rightly, that he wouldn’t make it back in time to even lodge an on-the-floor protest. Instead, Larson offered a simple tweet: "Shame."
The new procedural maneuver requires that bill now be sent back to the State Assembly for consideration since that body has passed only the full (not the severed) budget bill. According to Mary Spicuzza of the Wisconsin State Journal, the Assembly will reportedly take up the measure tomorrow.
UPDATE, 7:12 p.m.: University of Madison-Wisconsin student journalist Talya Minsberg, who is at the Capitol, told The Huffington Post that there are vastly more people stuck outside than inside due to "airport-style" security measures. Those outside crowded around a window near where the vote was taking place, to shout and protest Republican lawmakers: "You lied! You lied! You lied to Wisconsin!" went one chant. "Shame!" went another.
UPDATE, 7:46: The Weekly Standard's John McCormack has more details on what was in the actual bill that passed.
The legislation being voted on tonight has few changes from the bill as initially proposed. It would save just $30 million less than the original budget bill by stripping out a refinancing provision. But it would still save the state $300 million over the next two years by requiring state employees to contribute about 5% of income toward their pensions and by requiring state workers to pay for about 12% of their health insurance premiums. It would also save $1.44 billion by requiring public employees in school districts and municipalities to pay 5% of their salaries toward their pensions and by removing collective bargaining for benefits, thus giving school districts and municipalities the option of requiring their employees to pay about 12% for their health insurance premiums.
UPDATE, 9:26: AP reports that Governor Walker praised the State Senate's vote:
Walker said: "In order to move the state forward, I applaud the Legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government."