Doors of the legislature must remain open
“The right of the people to monitor the people’s business is one of the core principles of democracy.” —Schill vs. Wisconsin Rapids School District, WI 86
Judge Maryann Sumi of Dane County Circuit Court cited the above quote today as she ruled that Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate had violated the state’s open meetings law on March 9th, 2011. The New York Times described the legislature’s actions on that day:
The Senate’s 19 Republicans approved the measure, 18 to 1, in less than half an hour, without any debate on the floor or a single Democrat in the room.
Judge Sumi’s ruling has stopped the enactment of the law in question, which removed the right of unions to bargain collectively for certain rights. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel describes what comes next:
The ruling is the latest in a nearly four-month-long drama that looks to continue for much of the year. On June 6, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether to take the case.
On July 12, recall elections will be held after lawmakers’ stances sparked petition drives around the state to recall them.
Nine senators – six Republicans and three Democrats– are targeted. The elections put control of the Senate in play.
The political action in Wisconsin has been hotter than anything we have seen since the anti-war protests during George W. Bush presidency. Over 100,000 demonstrators braved the bitter cold to express their political will in February and March. We are seeing the messy nature of our democracy; the people of Wisconsin have challenged the actions of their lawmakers.
But the overarching issue, which is rarely raised, is the true fiscal condition of Wisconsin. The justification for the law that stripped collective-bargaining rights is that Wisconsin faces an enormous deficit and debt burden. The state has already made cuts to public health programs, higher education and the state work force. Let’s have a look at the data:
|Projected FY 2012 budget shortfall||12.8%|
|Personal income tax change 1/10 to 3/11||+33%|
|Corporate tax change 1/10 to 3/11||-1.7%|
|Sales tax change 1/10 to 3/11||+3.7%|
|Proportion of state debt to gross state product||5.04%|
|Debt burden as % of state expenditures||2.40%|
|Source: Wall Street Journal and S&P|
These are important numbers for everyone involved in the Wisconsin debate. Beyond the political theater and protests, the state has some hard fiscal choices to make. I hope after the July 12th recall elections are held the members of the legislature use data as a starting point for their political discussions and not rhetoric. We’ll be interested to hear what develops in Madison.
Markit Source: Law struck down due to lack of sunshine
Wall Street Journal: State Tax Collections