I’ll be completely honest with you: For someone who lives 8 miles from the Wisconsin border, I know very little about that state’s government. But I do know that what’s happening there this week is a dramatic showdown between political forces that had to come sometime, and isn’t likely to be limited to Wisconsin.
At 11, the Wisconsin Senate will consider a bill, supported by Gov. Scott Walker, that imposes new working agreements and removes some benefits for some public employee unions. “We’re broke,” Gov. Walker says.
But the unions have been flexing their own muscle with a third day of “occupation” of the Wisconsin Capitol.
Coverage of the Senate session is to be provided by Wisconsin Eye. I’ll try to live blog, but it will depend on access to video or audio. No guarantees. Wisconsin isn’t Minnesota when it comes to public information on demand.
Here’s a copy of the bill. It’s 144 pages long.
10:45 a.m. – Online surveys are notoriously non-scientific, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online poll shows sentiment in favor of passing the legislation.
10:54 a.m. – Columnist Patrick McIlheran of the Journal Sentinel:
Yeah? Recall how we got here. How is it that only in desperation will unions accept a deal that still leaves them better off than everyone else? How did we achieve not just next year’s $3.3 billion deficit but the decade of structural deficits before? Easy: It’s because labor costs for years have been outstripping taxpayers’ capacity. That in turn was caused by officials, elected in a union-dominated political environment, buying labor peace via benefits, where it’s harder for voters to see the costs adding up.
Walker apparently thinks the state is too broke to keep negotiating with unions the same way it has done before, although it’s not clear why he decided to take that stance at this particular juncture. He might be counting on growing anti-union sentiment that has caused some to question the effectiveness of organized labor, particularly public unions with long-standing agreements – some say “sweetheart deals” – with government.
11:12 a.m. – Still waiting for the lawmakers to convene. Here’s an AP report on the scene in Madison.
11:25 a.m. – Senators are being called to the floor. This link might be thick reading for we mere mortals, but it’s a background on Wisconsin’s public retirement system.
11:30 a.m. – There were rumors from the unions that Democrats would walk out today, preventing a vote. It sounds like the Democrats didn’t show up. There are 17 senators present, which is a quorum, however.
11:33 a.m. – Debate has started, disruptions break out in the gallery. Republicans are trying to press ahead but the chants are getting louder.
11:35 a.m. – The Republicans have given up and adjourned (or “standing informal”). They are looking to round up Democrats.
11:42 a.m. – Reading quite a few “tweets” with pleas to Al Jazeera to cover the events in Wisconsin, ” because the American media is ignoring it.” You have to take some responsibility for finding “the American media.” It’s not ignoring it by a long shot. And if you mean CNN or Fox, then one should identify them as such. There’s more to “the media” than a couple of big news organizations.
11:45 a.m. – Sen. Michael Ellis, R-Neenah, says the bill cannot be passed without 20 senators present. Acknowledges they don’t have. “I have no idea how long that will take; it will take an hour, 5 hours, 20 hours. ” He tells the people in the audience who were disrupting proceedings earlier, “You’re all good Americans. Thank you for your courtesy. God bless you.”
11:50 a.m. – Feel free to talk among yourselves in the comments section. Some good comments there already to kick around.
12:19 p.m. –
It appears the Democrats are coming in. They’re wearing red or orange T-shirts, which I presume are union-messaged shirts. Apologies, those are members of the Assembly.
12:34 p.m. – Wisconsin State Journal says Democrat senators are leaving the city.
12:57 p.m. – I’m going to go live blog the “Should the CPB be funded” debate on MPR. Doesn’t appear to be anything new on the Wisconsin story. If something develops, I’ll pick it up later. Keep talking — nicely — in comments.
2:08 p.m. – This opinion piece in the Capitol Times claims Gov. Walker ginned up the Wisconsin financial crisis, and provides a link to the January fiscal note which it says proved it.
2:48 p.m. – Somewhat related: Minnesota Rep. Mark Buesgens filed legislation today ending public pensions for state workers.