While this year’s Capitol protests, recounts and recalls made headlines on their own, Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to curtail collective bargaining for most public employees was the spark that set off many of the political battles fought in Madison in 2011.
Governor Walker introduced his budget repair bill on February 11th, arguing it was needed to close a $137 million gap in state spending. Walker warned that failing to act could result in “massive layoffs at the state and the local level.”
Included in the bill was increased pension and health care contributions from state workers, along with the removal of collective bargaining on most public employment issues.
AFSCME head Rick Badger was among many union members who called the bill an assault on the rights of workers that “would wipe out decades of labor relations.”
The bill seemed positioned for quick passage, with a vote scheduled in the state Senate just a week later. On the day that vote was supposed to take place though, 14 Senate Democrats left the state for Illinois to prevent a vote. The move resulted in a Legislative standoff that would take three weeks to resolve.
As lawmakers worked to get the Democrats to come back, tens of thousands of protesters converged on the Capitol building, disrupting the daily operations of state government as demonstrators fought to “kill the bill.”
During that time, the Assembly moved ahead with work on the budget repair bill and passed it after more than 60 hours of debate. But with Senate Democrats still out of the state and negotiations going nowhere, the measure was left to sit and wait.
Then, on March 9th, Senate Republicans called a conference committee hearing late in the day, where they approved a stripped down version of the bill. The changes removed the fiscal policy elements, leaving the collective bargaining changes intact. The move allowed Republicans to approve the bill in the Senate without Democrats being present. The Assembly quickly acted on the new version and Governor Walker signed it within days.
However, implementation was blocked by a legal challenge from Democrats, who argued the conference committee violated the open meetings law by not being properly noticed at least two hours in advance. A Dane County judge agreed with that argument and blocked implementation, but the state Supreme Court overturned the decision in mid-June allowing Act 10 to finally take effect.
AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:59)