I'd like to draw the attention of the discerning reader to something that was buried at the bottom of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's most recent coverage of the ongoing budget repair hullaballoo in Wisconsin.
At the bottom of the article, the paper describes how before the no-longer-a-budget-repair-bill passed the Senate, Senate Republicans voted through a measure to fine each absent Democratic senator $100. Under what authority, you might ask? Under a measure they apparently voted through earlier this week, without the Democrats, that gives the Senate the authority to levy fines on Senators who miss consecutive legislative sessions.
On one level, this is no more than the Democrats deserve; if they abdicate (however temporarily) their voices in the Senate, they can hardly complain when business is conducted in their absence. But the idea of 'we're going to make up a new rule that didn't apply before and then punish you for violating it' is absurd. It's on the same level as a game of punch-buggy-no-punch-back. Those measures were passed in a spirit of undercutting the other side and nothing else.
It's important to keep that spirit in mind when you're thinking about the tactic Republicans have employed to break the stalemate. Whether or not they violated committee rules in getting the bill through the Senate, as I think, isn't the most important point. They have violated every semblance of a bipartisan process by rushing the measure through and not giving Democrats time to come back and debate the bill. And throughout the last few weeks, while Democrats and union leaders have offered to soften their views on the budget if the rollback of collective bargaining rights was eliminated, Walker has stuck to his original proposal. There is no spirit of compromise, concession or anything similar in the Republican mindset on this bill. That is wrong.
It's also important to keep in mind that the collective bargaining part of this bill is now legislatively, as well as symbolically, separated from the actual budget. This is fitting, if you believe as I do that it was always a blatant political move that was made primarily to reduce the power of unions and secondarily to have an effect on the state budget. This becomes more apparent when you consider that Walker passed $117.2 million worth of tax breaks that will apply to the next budget after this one immediately after he took office. Apparently, even in an era of massive budget deficits that must be closed, raising taxes or even holding them steady is politically impossible.
Now the modified union-busting bill has passed the Assembly and will soon be signed by Governor Walker. I cannot express just how strongly I feel that this is the wrong direction for the state to go in, no matter what our budget deficit is. The way this bill was passed and the unjust action it takes are, to me, disgusting. This will most certainly go to court, and I hope it is found unconstitutional.
But remember this, as recalling voters and opinion pollers certainly will: Scott Walker and the Republican majorities in both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature are not passing this bill to close a budget gap. This is about achieving a political goal and scoring points off of the other party, which had repeatedly shown that it is willing to compromise. This is union-busting, not solely an attempt to balance the budget. This is a huge step backwards in Wisconsin workers' rights, and that's exactly what Scott Walker has been aiming for all along.