Doors of the legislature must remain open

May 26, 2011

“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.

More sources:

Markit Source: Law struck down due to lack of sunshine

Reuters: Judge voids controversial Wisconsin union law

Wall Street Journal: State Tax Collections

Youtube: March 9, 2011 – Wisconsin Capitol – Protests after Collective Bargaining Stripped From Workers

One comment

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Why the hell do you think this is all about
rhetoric. This fight has nothing to do with rhetoric.
It only has to do with unions, fighting to keep their Phoney Baloney jobs. All of this would go away like
smoke if the unions didnt threaten these democrats.
Realize that unions are, and they hire, absolute
experts at making the problem look like someone elses.
The problem is that their contracts are way out of line
with reality. Just look at the pensions! Just look at their hourly pay! By coming up with nasty things to call
good people, they brow beat people into submission.
30+ million dollars to get rid of 2 good people and ruin
their reputations. Thats more money than has ever been
spent,total,for statewide elections in Wisconsin.
I dont live in Wisconsin or know any of the Legislators.
But when this kinda crap happens I cannot sit idely by!

Posted by clarence1 | Report as abusive