It’s part of a larger bill he’ll introduce Friday to cover a $137 million revenue shortfall in the current state budget that ends June 30th.
Walker’s plan would stop giving the unions a say on their benefits and work rules – and they could only get pay raises up to the rate of inflation, unless voters approve higher raises in a referendum. But law enforcement and fire department unions would be exempt from these limits. Those groups supported Walker in last fall’s election.
The Republican Walker told one media outlet that none of this should be a surprise, and – “The shock would be if we didn’t go forward with this.”
He said it was necessary to avoid the layoffs of 6,000 state employees – and to avoid 200,000 kids from being dropped from Wisconsin’s Medicaid health programs for the poor.
Walker will say more at a news conference Friday morning. Democrats said he was “declaring war” on union employees.
Unlike private sector unions, which are governed by federal law, state unions are governed only by a pair of state laws that are 40 years old. Walker’s proposal would also stop requiring employees to pay union dues if they don’t join. And it would wipe the ability of UW employees to form unions – a right they won just 2 years ago from Democrats and former Governor Jim Doyle.
But not all Republicans are on board. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said a lot of questions need to be asked – and he’s not sure if it has the votes to pass right now.
The budget repair bill would also make state employees pay over 12 percent of their health insurance costs and almost 6 percent of their pensions. It refinances $165 million in state debt, and pushes principal payments into the next budget.
Health officials would have new power to cut Medicaid costs, but the finance committee could reject their plans if it chooses. And some civil service posts would become political appointees of the governor – including chief legal counsels and agency spokesmen.
Walker budget plan would limit state unions to negotiating only on salaries
That would mean public worker unions would not have any say on benefits and work rules and would face a new restriction on salary increases as well.
Walker's bill also would allow public employees to avoid making payments to unions if they don't join those unions. Now, workers can choose not to join unions, but they must make "fair share" payments similar to dues - a requirement that unions say is needed because all workers benefit from their work at the bargaining table.
But the measure would exempt law enforcement and firefighters - groups that supported Walker in the November election - from those bargaining changes.
Walker declined an interview with the Journal Sentinel Thursday to discuss his budget repair bill before a public announcement Friday, but the newspaper obtained a summary of the proposal. The state faces a $137 million budget shortfall this fiscal year ending June 30.
"This is not a shock," Walker told The Associated Press. "The shock would be if we didn't go forward with this."
The cuts are necessary to avoid up to 6,000 state employee layoffs and the removal of more than 200,000 children from the Medicaid program, Walker said.
Democrats denounced the plan and said the Republican governor was "declaring war" on unions before attempting to bargain with them.
"These are dedicated public servants who work really hard at what they do," Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said. "You can't just take all that experience and flush it down the toilet."
With the move, Walker is following a path taken by Republican governors such as Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey to aggressively rein in government spending and likely setting off a tumult in the Capitol.
The bill also would:
• Limit the total wage increases for union public employees to the rate of inflation, unless voters approve the increase by referendum. The proposal requires unions to take a yearly vote to maintain their status as a union and prohibits public employers from collecting union dues for unions. During his campaign, Walker received endorsements from the Wisconsin Troopers' Association and the unions representing Milwaukee cops and firefighters, which would be exempted from those changes, as well.
• Require state employees to contribute 5.8% of their pay to their pensions. The proposal also requires state workers to pick up at least 12.6% of the cost of their health care premiums and trims overall benefits in health plans.
• Refinance state debt to push principal payments into the future and save $165 million in this fiscal year. That money would be used to help cover two looming bills for the state - $58.7 million owed to Minnesota following the breakdown of an income tax agreement covering citizens who work across state lines and $200 million owed to a medical malpractice fund that was illegally raided by Gov. Jim Doyle and lawmakers in 2007.
• Give the state Department of Health Service sweeping powers to change the state's Medicaid health programs for the poor such as BadgerCare Plus to address sharply rising costs for those programs. Members of the Legislature's budget committee would have a chance to object to those provisions and force a vote by the committee on the changes.
• Allow for the sale of state heating plants, with the net gains from any sale to be put in a budget reserve fund.
• Make civil service positions such as chief legal counsel, public information officer and legislative liaison into political appointments. This could potentially allow Walker to fill positions held by holdovers from the Doyle administration with Walker's own picks.
Democratic criticismDemocrats and unions sharply criticized the plan saying public employees' overall pay and wages lagged behind the private sector.
"Even if you don't like unions, surely we all can agree that anti-freedom attacks that deny public employees the right to negotiate a fair contract . . . are outrageous and wrong," said Rich Abelson, executive director of AFSCME Council 48, which represents Milwaukee County workers.
GOP reaction mixedSen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), co-chairwoman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, said she supports Walker's plans.
"We have to have a transformation in this state," she said. "And if we don't do it now, we're never going to get control of labor costs."
Republicans control both houses, but the plan could still be tough to pass through the Legislature. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he expected Walker to have the lawmakers consider the bill as part of a special session. He said it was too early to say whether the plan could pass his house and that Republican senators had a "lot of good questions" for Walker's team.
"The concept is pretty radical," said Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). "It affects a lot of good working people."
Olsen said he could support the changes on pensions and health care but had reservations about taking away other bargaining rights.
Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) said he would have liked to see an even bolder plan. "It's about time. It's not as far I'd go, but it's about time," he said.
Walker and his staff met with Republicans behind closed doors Thursday to discuss the budget plan. The proposal has not yet been formally introduced and could undergo changes as lawmakers weigh in with Walker.
One issue still being worked out is whether the bill will be introduced in a special session, which is called by the governor, or an extraordinary session, which is called by lawmakers. That element could be significant because legislative leaders would have to sign off on details before introducing a bill in an extraordinary session.
The state faces an even larger $3.6 billion deficit in the next 2011-'13 budget, which begins on July 1. Democrats have criticized Walker for adding to that problem in recent weeks by passing $117 million in tax cuts aimed at boosting the economy and holding down the price of health care. The tax cuts received support from Republicans and some Democrats.
Walker's proposal on unions would affect state workers in the districts of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) and brother Scott Fitzgerald, for instance, have three prisons in or near their districts - Dodge Correctional Institution, Fox Lake Correctional Institution and Waupun Correctional Institution. Those institutions have large numbers of union guards and other workers.
Private sector differentUnlike unions of private-sector workers, which are governed by federal law, state and local unions in Wisconsin are largely governed by two 40-year-old state laws, said Peter Davis, general counsel for the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. State unions are covered under the State Employment Labor Relations Act, and school and local government unions are covered under the Municipal Employment Relations Act.
That means Republican lawmakers and Walker can change state law so that unions could no longer negotiate over health or pension benefits or so that arbitrators would be less likely to rule in favor of unions during contract disputes.
Current law requires public employers to bargain with unions over a range of issues including wages, benefits, procedures for disciplining employees and decisions on whether to subcontract work done by union members, Davis said. Public unions also can reach arrangements in which all employees in a given workplace - even those who aren't union members - are required to pay union dues. Nonunion members can ask for a portion of their dues to be returned to them rather than spent on the union's political activities.
Davis said he couldn't comment on the proposal and its effects on public workers, since a case involving the measure might come before the commission.
But he said that, in general, lawmakers can't invalidate existing contracts such as those between labor unions and government employers. So any changes to labor law wouldn't affect unions until their contracts expire.
This ignorant ass has had a vendetta against organized workers since his days in Milwaukee. I did the math, and his proposed increases would be the equivalent of not one, but TWO lost mortgage payments taken out of my family's paychecks per year. We can barely make the payments now, and between me and my husband, we work two full-time state jobs AND three more part-time ones. My sources tell me this will all be enacted retroactively, too, if Walker has his way.
The National Guard was put on alert in Wisconsin last week in anticipation of pissing off the 40,000+ workers in the unions; not many know that.