March 9, 2011- Reports are coming in from Wisconsin that state Republicans could be on the verge of doing an end-run around state Senate Democrats — who have fled the state in order to block the three-fifths budget quorum on Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill and its anti-public employee union provisions. The apparent solution: Convene a special conference committee this evening to strip out the fiscal elements of the budget repair bill — and then pass the anti-union proposals with simple majority quorums.
Two weeks ago, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) had ruled out such a tactic, but it appears things may have changed as tense negotiations have dragged on. If the bill now passes in this form, most collective bargaining rights of public employees in Wisconsin would be stripped, and new limitations on union organization would be imposed.
The Associated Press reports: "Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch says he thinks Republicans plan to 'ram through' parts of the bill that take away collective bargaining rights but that don't cost any money."
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who has been in exile in Chicago, expressed his outrage to the Wisconsin State Journal. "They have been saying all along that this is a fiscal item, we've been saying it is not," said Erpenbach. "They have been lying. Their goal is to bust up the unions."
If this maneuver goes through, it would have some enormous political ramifications in the state, as unions are an important base of the Democratic Party organization in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the unions and Democrats have been actively organizing recalls of Republican state legislators — leveraging the power of the tens of thousands of people who have protested the bill, and numerous opinion polls showing that Wisconsin voters oppose breaking the unions.