Sen. Jim Holperin’s first formal statement on Special Session Senate Bill 11 as published in the March 1 Tomahawk Leader:
On Monday, Feb. 14, Special Session Senate Bill 11 (SB 11) was introduced at the request of Gov. Walker as a “budget repair bill” necessary to correct a $137 million revenue shortfall in the state’s fiscal year which ends June 30, 2011. A final vote on passage was scheduled for four days later.
It became immediately apparent that the 144 page SB 11 did far more than simply correct a budget imbalance in the current fiscal year. The measure was full of policy changes that affected Medicaid (SeniorCare, FamilyCare, BadgerCare, etc.), the sale of state facilities, and several other state programs far into the future. Most important, the bill would repeal nearly all of the current statutory rights of public employees to organize, negotiate and bargain collectively with their employers. Noisy but peaceful protests began the following day.
A single, lengthy public hearing was held the day after SB 11 was introduced, and the hearing generated even more questions about the contents of the bill. On Thursday, Feb. 17, 14 State Senators refused to come to the floor to vote on the measure, saying more time was needed for the public to fully understand the long term impacts of the legislation.
After serving nearly 15 years in both the State Assembly and Senate, I’ve learned one thing that really upsets people is the quick passage of legislation which directly affects them, but which they were not aware of and did not have the opportunity to comment on.
The following day, as protests spread statewide, public employees agreed to the fiscal concessions which Gov. Walker claimed were necessary to both correct the current budget shortfall and eliminate the $3.6 billion deficit which is projected over the coming two years. Having won an agreement by public workers to pay more toward their pensions and health insurance, Gov. Walker was asked to compromise on eliminating the worker’s rights to organize and bargain collectively. He refused to discuss the matter, and so it became quite clear that the issue was no longer just balancing the state budget, but rather eliminating worker’s rights.
Over the next few days, repeated attempts were made to seek a meeting with the Governor. All such requests were denied. The 14 Democratic Senators stayed away and began attempts to talk with Senate Republicans about some middle ground. Those attempts continue.
The basic right of public workers in Wisconsin to organize and bargain has been a part of Wisconsin law for many decades. The law has been changed many times to adjust for economic conditions, but every single Governor in the past 50 years, both Republican and Democrat, has worked with the legislature to make those changes while protecting the fundamental right of workers to bargain collectively.
Many have said the Senators who walked out behaved childishly and are not doing the job they were paid to do. However, it is always the job of the minority to make sure that the legislature takes sufficient time to consider the consequences of legislation, and that people’s rights are respected and protected. In this case, leaving the Capitol was the only way to buy enough time for the proper consideration of legislation which would eliminate the rights of public workers.
While we have been gone, a great deal more has been learned about the consequences of SB 11, yet no essential state business has been neglected. Wisconsin government is working, no one has been laid off and no fiscal harm has come to the state.
In the 12 days that I and my colleagues have been away, we work long days in meetings, on the phone and by e-mail with constituents. Most important, we continue to seek compromise and middle ground with the Governor and Republican State Senators on the matter of worker’s rights. We believe there is a compromise which both requires sufficient financial sacrifices by public workers to balance the budget, yet still preserves the fundamental right of those workers to organize and bargain collectively. We remain hopeful that such a compromise is not far off.