Madison - The Legislature will write Gov. Scott Walker's frozen limits on collective bargaining into the state budget Tuesday if the state Supreme Court hasn't restored them by then, the leader of the state Assembly said Monday.
As time was running out for the high court to act and the budget showdown loomed, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) and other Republicans said they also would seek to pass the budget bill under so-called extraordinary rules that allow it to be advanced more quickly from one house to the next.
Meanwhile, the marble hallways of the Capitol were patrolled by dozens of State Patrol troopers and Capitol police as the Assembly prepared to take up the budget bill, which would balance a $3 billion hole using deep cuts to schools and local governments in place of new taxes. The state's teachers union and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO called on members to protest in Madison ahead of Tuesday's vote, raising the specter of renewed large-scale protests at the Statehouse.
"If need be, we are going to have to pass collective bargaining again," Fitzgerald said at a Capitol news conference. "My caucus is more solid on that collective bargaining vote than they ever have been."
An amendment to add the collective bargaining provisions into the budget bill also would exempt local transit workers - a move that could protect $47 million in federal transit aid. That's because federal rules require union bargaining rights to remain in place for those workers for the federal money to keep flowing.
"The GOP has heard me talk on countless occasions about how their senseless attacks put vital transit funding in jeopardy. I'm pleased that, in this one instance, they've learned to listen to common sense," Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) said in a statement.
Also, new figures released Monday showed the 2011-'13 budget bill would leave the state with an estimated $306 million surplus in the following budget. The Legislature's nonpartisan budget office found that the bill would bring the state's tax revenue and spending commitments into balance for the first time in more than a decade. It would hold the line on property taxes and lower state taxes but raise state fees by more than $100 million.
The Legislature in March voted to eliminate nearly all collective bargaining for most public workers, but a Dane County judge struck down the law because she found a committee violated the open meetings law in advancing the bill. The Supreme Court heard arguments last week on the case and could rule within hours - or take weeks to decide whether to even accept the case.
Republicans wrangled Monday over individual budget provisions behind closed doors, including one that would prohibit county road crews from doing certain projects costing more than $100,000. That provision would force counties to turn to private contractors and make it harder for them to keep on staff the workers who drive snowplows in the winter.
In a letter to the Walker administration Tuesday, Door County Administrator Michael Serpe said his county would stop maintenance work on state highways if the provision isn't removed or new state funding provided. Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said his county might have to do the same thing.
"It's a very real possibility," Nelson said.
Fitzgerald said he expects debate in the Assembly to begin Tuesday and last a day or two. He said the Assembly will pass the budget in extraordinary session, which will give Republicans the power to immediately send the budget to the Senate once debate is finished.
The Senate is also controlled by Republicans, and run by Fitzgerald's brother, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), who declined to comment Monday on whether he had the votes to pass the budget.
"We keep working on it," Scott Fitzgerald said, adding that Republicans "feel like we're under the gun to get something by the end of the week."
Both Fitzgeralds said it was important to pass the budget this week because it needs to take effect by June 30, and 10 days might be needed for it to be signed and published into law.
Jeff Fitzgerald said the two houses are trying to work together so that all amendments from both houses are incorporated into the Assembly version of the bill. That way, the budget could go straight from the Assembly to the Senate to Walker, who hailed the legislation Monday.
"It makes the hard decisions that other politicians avoided and lays the foundation for sustainable economic growth," Walker said in a statement.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau also found that the budget bill would cut taxes by a net amount of $23.6 million over the next two years. But state fees would increase by $111.3 million, with most of that increase coming from an annual boost of 5.5% expected for tuition in the University of Wisconsin System over each of the next two years.
Democrats said the budget is an assault on working families because of its cuts to education and local governments. Rep. Donna Seidel (D-Wausau) said she was concerned about Republicans' use of the extraordinary session to pass the budget.
"It appears to be part of their strategy that anything can happen and anything can be rushed through with little or no scrutiny," she said.
Senate Chief Clerk Rob Marchant said Monday the extraordinary session would not allow Senate Republicans to limit debate or amendments on the budget bill in his house. The extraordinary session could set up some limits in the Assembly, though John Jagler, a spokesman for Jeff Fitzgerald, said he knew of no plans to do so.
The extraordinary session would let Republicans advance the budget bill past the stage of an initial preliminary approval in each house and allow it to be sent between houses on the same day.
Under regular session rules, Republicans would need to have a two-thirds majority vote to do that if Democrats objected to advancing the bill. Such objections have been fairly common in the Assembly, even before the contentious budget battles of recent months.
Republicans can't meet a two-thirds threshold on the budget bill, so Democrats could in turn hold up the proposal for one or two session days, depending on the legislative house. Under extraordinary session rules, Republicans could advance the bills with a simple majority.Wisconsin WaveWisconsin WaveWisconsin Wave