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Friday, December 17, 2010 12:06 AM

Hardball in Wisconsin; Massive Defeat for Unions in Lame-Duck Session

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In Wisconsin, governor-elect Scott Walker is in a showdown with state employee unions.

"Anything from the decertify all the way through modifications of the current laws in place," Walker said at a luncheon sponsored by the Milwaukee Press Club at the Newsroom Pub.

"The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers and the people who care about services."
Union supporters did not like the idea one bit and sought legislation in the lame-duck session that would tie Walker's hands.

It was a done deal. The votes were there in the house. In the Senate it was 18-14 in favor. Or so everyone thought. Amazingly, at the last moment, two democrats including Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker switched votes sending the bills up in flames.

Please consider Dems end lame duck session after failure to pass union contracts
Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's administration announced last week it had completed negotiations on 17 contracts covering 39,000 state workers ranging from teachers to janitors. The deals included no pay increases, factored in 16 furlough days Doyle ordered state employees to take in the current state budget and called for 5 percent increases in health care contributions.

The contracts have been a hot issue for Walker. He demanded Doyle's staff stop work on the agreements last month, saying they could hamstring him as he grapples with a $150 million deficit in the current fiscal year and a $3.3 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget.

He wants state workers to make deeper concessions and even suggested he would consider abolishing state employee unions after he takes office.

Democrats pushed on despite Walker's demands, saying he's not the governor yet. But no one realized that former Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, wasn't on board.

Assembly Democrats convened first Wednesday evening and barely got the contracts through, approving 16 of them by one vote and the last by three votes. The swing voter was Rep. Jeff Wood, who convinced a judge to release him from jail long enough to travel to Madison and vote. Wood, a Chippewa Falls independent who often sides with Democrats, is serving 60 days for impaired driving in Marathon County.

The Senate convened moments later, with Republicans complaining that Democrats were so desperate to tie Walker's hands that they pulled a lawmaker out of jail.

Then, moments before the vote on the first contract, Decker got up and said he couldn't support any of the deals. He said Doyle should have had the contracts ready months ago and the next Legislature should deal with them.

He and Sen. Jeff Plale, D-Milwaukee, voted against the contract, creating a 16-16 tie with Republicans. A tie vote meant the contract failed.

Enraged Democrats immediately recessed to a closed door meeting, stomping angrily out of the chamber. Decker seemed in good spirits on his way into the meeting, laughing when a trailing reporter joked he was getting more media attention than Wood.

When Democrats remerged they had stripped Decker of his leadership post and handed it to Hansen. They returned to the floor and voted on the remaining 16 contracts, but Decker and Plale didn't change their minds and every one of the agreements failed, 16-16. Decker, a 20-year Senate veteran, sat in his chair as the votes went on, looking unaffected. He had nothing to lose; he lost his re-election bid in November and will be out of the Legislature in three weeks anyway.
I am not sure exactly what happened but I would not be surprised to see either Russ Decker or Jeff Plale, both who lost reelection bids, find jobs with the new administration.

Regardless of what did happen, I definitely look forward to some hardball from governor Scott Walker. Specifically, I want to see him decertify public unions. If he can get that done, I would support him for president.

Nationally, we need to kill collective bargaining for all public unions, scrap Davis-Bacon and all prevailing wage laws, mandate Right-to-Work laws, and do something to cleanup untenable public union pension promises, not just going forward, but existing benefits as well.

To do the latter, I propose taxing public union pension benefits above $120,000 at 90%, returning the excess to the pension plans until the plans are fully funded using a reasonable rate of return estimate of the long-term T-Bill rate. That rate is currently 4.25%.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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