March 2, 2011- Local governments like Madison and Dane County can't afford to pay for everything. At least that's the premise behind the portion of Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill that would strip almost all collective bargaining rights from most public worker unions.
By eliminating collective bargaining rights, Walker's intention was to allow for a mechanism for local governments to reap some sort of financial savings to survive the loss of nearly $1 billion in state aid in his proposed 2011-2013 budget. It breaks down to a roughly $59.5 million cut from cities, towns and villages, a $36.5 million reduction for counties and roughly $834 million taken from public schools.
More control over union wages and compensation packages, Walker reasons, would provide "greater flexibility" or "tools" for local units of government to weather his massive cuts in state aid, which are intended to address a budget deficit estimated at $3.6 billion.
"Where we must make reductions, we do so wisely, by giving local governments the tools to save even more money than overall reductions in state aid," Walker said in his budget address Tuesday afternoon.
The move to gut bargaining rights remains in limbo, however, because the state Senate cannot convene enough members for a quorum to do fiscal business. Fourteen Democratic senators left the state last month to stop action on the bill and they say they won't return until Walker agrees to negotiate about the collective bargaining portion of the plan. The governor has said he won't budge on that point.
In the meantime, many local officials are upset by Walker's proposals, arguing they are capable of bargaining with their employees to balance their finances and maintain quality services, even in the recent economic downturn.