By Collin Roth
Just before 5 PM on Tuesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court handed down an unusually speedy decision in the Budget Repair Bill case brought before the court in the aftermath of Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi’s injunction against the bill. Sumi’s injunction alleged that the March 9 conference committee that passed the non-fiscal provisions of the Budget Repair Bill violated the Open Meetings Law.
The high court’s decision was handed down in two parts. The court unanimously took jurisdiction of the case but split on whether the conference committee violated the Open Meetings Law. The court ruled 4-3 that the Open Meetings Law was not violated by the March 9 conference committee.
The court ruled that Judge Maryann Sumi exceeded her jurisdiction by “invading” the legislature’s constitutional powers and authority. It declared her ruling “invalid from the outset.”
The decision, although not surprising given the conservative majority on the court, is a boon for the Republican leadership in the Assembly who were facing the prospect of inserting the extremely controversial collective bargaining provisions of the Budget Repair Bill into the already divisive 2012-13 budget.
It is not yet clear if Act 10 (the Budget Repair Bill) will need to be published again, or if the March publication by the Legislative Reference Bureau will stand, granting immediate effect to the law.
By Collin Roth
The Wisconsin legislature is set to undertake two significant votes in the coming week.
On Tuesday, the Assembly begins debate on the controversial 2012-13 budget proposal that sparked months of protests due in large part to significant cuts to state aid and K-12 public education. The budget, the product of Governor Walker’s promise to tackle a $3.6 billion debt without raising taxes, has been under constant assault from Democratic lawmakers and progressive organizations due to nearly $800 million in cuts to public education, changes to BadgerCare and SeniorCare, the expansion of school vouchers, and additional pro-business tax cuts and credits.
An added nuance to the already controversial budget would be the addition of a substitute amendment to add the non-fiscal provisions of the Budget Repair Bill into the budget, most notably the changes made to collective bargaining. It was the changes to collective bargaining that launched two months of massive protests in Madison and caused fourteen Democratic Senators to flee to Illinois to avoid a vote.
The Budget Repair Bill, signed into law by Governor Walker on March 11, is currently on hold after Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi issued a permanent injunction against the bill alleging that a March 9 conference committee violated the Open Meetings Law. The case is currently before the Wisconsin Supreme Court which heard oral arguments on June 6, but has yet to issue a decision.
Without a decision from the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said “if need be, we are going to have to pass collective bargaining again,” emphasizing that “my caucus is more solid on that collective bargaining vote than they ever have been.”
The Wisconsin Assembly is convening a rare “extraordinary session” to fast-track the budget bill and send it to the Senate without delay. This will be just the tenth occasion in which the Wisconsin legislature has called an “extraordinary session,” and only the third that has dealt with a state budget.
The Senate is expected to undertake the recently passed concealed carry legislation, approved by the Joint Finance Committee just last week. The original bill, sponsored by Senator Pam Galloway, was “constitutional carry” and did not require training or permits for Wisconsinites to carry concealed weapons. The Joint Finance Committee passed the bill 12-4 with a substitute amendment, adding in requirements for a safety and training course as well as a permit issued by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
This session of the Wisconsin state legislature is scheduled to conclude with the passage of the budget or by June 30. Lawmakers will not return to Madison until September, after the recall elections for nine state senators this summer.
By Collin Roth
On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Politifact tested the claim of Assemblywoman Michelle Litjens that “taxpayers pay for roughly 45 percent of all births in Wisconsin, and 60 percent of the births in Milwaukee.” After looking at Medicaid figures, Politifact rated Litjens’ astonishing claim to be true, and not “a misinformed right-wing rant” as they seemed to expect.
To rebut Litjens’ claims, Politifact turned to John Peacock, Executive Director of the Soros-funded Wisconsin Council on Families and Children, to explain that “prenatal care provided through Medicaid saves tax dollars by reducing the number of low birthweight babies.” But is this necessarily true?
Peacock uses a 2010 memo by the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services to cite that “the average Medicaid hospital charges for a low birthweight baby during the first year of life was $164,257, compared with $3,514 for a normal birthweight birth.” But when one examines the numbers in this report, one finds that 9% of all Medicaid births are low-birth weight, while just 5.3% of Non-Medicaid births are low birthweight.
The numbers show that 2,953 babies born under Medicaid plans were low birthweight while 2,078 babies born under Non-Medicaid plans were low birthweight. Medicaid does not ensure less low-birth weight babies than the alternative.
With Litjens’ statement about taxpayers funding 45% of births in Wisconsin, and Medicaid not verifiably better at preventing low birthweight babies than alternative Non-Medicaid plans, Wisconsin Council and Families and Children is simply defending an expensive entitlement that unsurprisingly fails in competition with private healthcare plans.
Wisconsin Council on Family and Children is a progressive organization committed to expanding government entitlements and raising taxes. For organizations such as this, more government, more spending, and more taxes is always the answer.
By Collin Roth
On Monday afternoon, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau released new figures that show Wisconsin benefitting to the tune of $300 million in surplus funds if the current budget proposal is passed. The figures also show that Wisconsin citizens, families, and businesses can expect a net total of $23.6 million in tax cuts over the next two fiscal years.
Governor Walker issued a statement shortly after the numbers were released touting the success of a budget that ”turned a $3.6 billion budget deficit into a slight surplus without raising taxes.” Walker’s statement continues by highlighting the importance of “a historic budget that protects core services and middle class taxpayers, saving the average homeowner $700 just in property taxes.”
The welcome news can’t come at a better time for Republicans who are attempting to pass the controversial budget in the coming week amidst what are expected to be large-scale protests. The much maligned Walker budget proposal has been under attack since the Governor introduced a Budget Repair Bill in February to curb collective bargaining that sparked nearly a month of massive protests in Madison. When the budget was finally proposed in early March, local government and school districts were outraged by the choice to either cut back or layoff employees.
Nevertheless, these numbers from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau show Walker’s budget proposal to be not only an answer to the $3.6 billion debt, but part of a long-term plan that puts Wisconsin on the right track for future budgets.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has recently been the bearer of good news, publishing figures just last month that showed the state would bring in an additional $636 million in tax revenue.
By Collin Roth
Over the weekend, vandals attacked the Madison office of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce with anti-business, anti-Walker graffiti . Fists, images of Governor Scott Walker, and slogans such as “tax the rich” were painted on the building and sidewalks around the office of the state’s chamber of commerce.
The actions of the vandals occurred the night prior to progressive group One Wisconsin Now’s noon demonstration at WMC to protest a “destructive, anti-worker, anti-middle class agenda.” One Wisconsin Now, long-time enemy of WMC, publishes a website called WMCwatch.org where it accuses WMC of fostering an agenda to “seize the most money from taxpayers as possible while having the least accountability from taxpayers as possible.” One Wisconsin Now recently published a study entitled “We’re Not Broke,” lambasting what they call a “phony fiscal crisis” because Wisconsin’s wealthy and corporations don’t pay enough in taxes.
WMC has also been the target of the Wisconsin Wave, a Leftist organization that launched a number of protests on the offices during the February-March budget repair demonstrations. Wisconsin Wave, whose slogan is “we won’t pay for their crisis,” was founded in January 2011 “to fight the growing influence corporate power has on our political process.” Wisconsin Wave also advocates raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to balance the budget. The Wisconsin Wave is powered by the Leftist groups Liberty Tree Foundation, an organization committed to “building a democracy movement” and led by former co-chair of the Green Party Ben Manski, as well as the Center for Media and Democracy, a self-described “investigative reporting group” funded by George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the Tides Foundation.
The vandalism at WMC is just part of series of radical actions undertaken by protesters in recent weeks. From the disruption of a Red Cross blood drive, to screaming and yelling in committee hearings, to a “zombie” protest at a Special Olympics event, budget protesters in Madison have become significantly more unruly, uncivil, and destructive.
Neither One Wisconsin Now or the Wisconsin Wave publicly condemned the vandalism perpetrated against the WMC building.
In a Sunday interview on Upfront with Mike Gousha, Democratic Senator Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee expressed concern that the latest round of Madison protesters have “gotten out of hand.” Carpenter was of course referring to the budget protests that have seen “zombies” interrupt Governor Walker’s speech to Special Olympians, screaming protesters that have to be dragged out of committee hearings, a disruption that interrupted a Red Cross blood drive, and a tent city across the street from the Capitol.
Carpenter said the “zombie” protest was simply “off the deep end,” and that those type of stunts are for people “just trying to get on TV.” He went on to register his displeasure with the “zombie” protest saying “I don’t think it’s classy.”
Last week, Carpenter issued a press release entitled “Respect, Rights, and Responsibilities,” to which he said “enthusiasm to express a difference of opinion has crossed the line and endangered the safety of those working in the capitol.” Furthermore, “on those unfortunate occasions when that enthusiasm is misplaced and results in intimidation or unsafe behavior it is ultimately counterproductive and distracts us from the debate on the issues.”
Senator Carpenter is the first Democratic lawmaker to publicly distance himself from the uncivil and unruly actions of the budget protesters.
By Collin Roth
In recent weeks, the protests in Madison have taken a decidedly ugly and uncivil turn.
From last week’s screaming and yelling in the Joint Finance Committee hearings that resulted in 25-30 arrests, to the eyesore of the “Walkerville” tent-city crowding the sidewalks of Madison, to the disruption that cancelled a Red Cross Blood Drive, to the despicable “zombie protest” that interrupted Governor Walker’s speech to the Special Olympians, the latest round of protests have found a new low.
And with the budget expected to be taken up by the Assembly next Tuesday, protests are could be particularly unruly over the next week.
On Friday, the Wisconsin Capitol Police laid out a set of rules and regulations in anticipation of large protests. The Capitol will now have more entrances open but will forbid signs on sticks, tape, bull horns, drums, noisemakers, sleeping bags, and weapons.
Unfortunately, the Wisconsin Capitol Police have not enforced the permit restrictions for “Walkerville” that required all tents to be taken down during the day.
And while the protests next week may not be as large as those in February and March, those who have assembled in Madison over the last few weeks have been unruly, uncivil, and particularly unhappy.
By Collin Roth
Last Thursday, Republican Assemblyman Joseph Knilans of Janesville sponsored an olive branch amendment that would allow school districts and collective bargaining units to modify compensation and fringe benefit packages in a 90 day window after the Budget Repair Bill goes into effect. Knilans calls his proposal a “job saving motion,” saying in a press release “I am not about to sit on the sidelines while so many of my constituents are about to lose their jobs.”
The specific target of Knilans proposal is the Janesville Teacher’s Association, who entered into a contract with the Janesville School District just last Fall before Governor Walker was elected. Knilan is hoping this bill could entice the Janesville Teacher’s Association to come back to the bargaining table to agree to 5.8% pension contributions in order to save the Janesville School District $3.1 million and save a number of teaching jobs.
So far, the Janesville Teacher’s Association has been tepid in their response to the amendment, saying “if it does pass, we will evaluate our position.” So far, council to the teacher’s union have advised against any opening of contracts.
Knilans proposal would not just help Janesville but would help a number of school districts including Milwaukee Public Schools who also entered into a contract last fall. Just last week, the MPS School Board asked the Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association to return to the bargaining table for similar pension contributions that could save the district over $19 million dollars and an estimated 198 jobs. But current president of the MTEA Mike Langyel said “we have already negotiated deep savings to this district. We are not willing to negotiate. We have concluded bargaining.”
Knilan’s amendment is an olive branch to school districts and teacher’s unions who want to avoid massive layoffs as a result of the budget cuts to K-12 public education. By the reactions of teacher’s union representatives in Janesville and Milwaukee, making concessions in order to preserve jobs does not appear to be a priority. Nevertheless, these union representatives will make the most noise when the layoffs come to pass, blaming Governor Walker and the Republicans without accepting any responsibility for their selfish inaction.
Knilans amendment, approved by the Joint Finance Committee 11-4, will be part of the 2012-13 budget expected to be voted on next week.
By Collin Roth
On Thursday, the Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 to approve concealed carry legislation via a substitute amendment that allows Wisconsinites to carry concealed weapons with a license issued by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. This substitute amendment replaces the original “constitutional carry” bill sponsored by Senator Pam Galloway that required no training and an optional permit. In order to obtain a concealed carry license from the DOJ, applicants will have to undergo a firearms training and safety course.
Proponents of “constitutional carry” oppose training and licensing as an infringement on Second Amendment rights while those in favor of the substitute amendment endorsed licensing and a training and safety course for those applying for a concealed weapons permit.
The substitute amendment passed 15-1 with the lone objection coming from Democrat Assemblywoman Tamara Grigsby who refused to “pick the lesser of two evils.”
While Wisconsin is one of just two states that did not allow citizens to carry concealed weapons in one form or another, only five states have unrestricted concealed carry. With this new legislation, Wisconsin will join the vast majority of states that issue concealed carry permits based on an individual meeting certain criteria as spelled out by the law.
Illinois will now be the only state in the union that forbids any concealed weapons among citizens other than law enforcement.
In what turned into a highly contested hearing of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, recall elections for three Democrat state senators were approved Wednesday evening in a marathon session. The Board carefully considered evidence of alleged fraud committed by paid circulators or Kennedy Enterprises, hired by the Republican Party of Wisconsin to assist in gathering signatures. In all, the Board only invalidated 230 signatures from one circulator, not nearly enough to invalidate the entire recall petitions in all three senate districts.
Jeremy Levinson, attorney for the Democrats, attempted to paint a picture of “massive and systemic fraud” perpetrated by “nomadic” paid out of state circulators intent on making a quick buck. Eric McLeod, representing the Republicans, disputed the evidence calling it “empty rhetoric.”
Despite serious allegations of fraud, the Board scheduled recall elections for Senators Dave Hansen, Jim Holperin, and Robert Wirch for July 19 for primaries and an August 12 general election.
Many expect the Democrats to challenge the GAB’s ruling after initiating a widespread smear campaign against the efforts to recall Democrats. This included Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate guaranteeing fraud before seeing the petitions, harassing phone calls by a Minnesota telemarketing firm, and alleging “widespread systematic election fraud” despite hardly any evidence and just a handful of affidavits.
The recall elections of Democrats will be one week later than the recalls of Republicans bringing a total of four election dates for the 2011 summer. Nine state senators in all will face recall elections this summer.