Let’s just touch on the politics of the Wisconsin budget fight. Despite the historic hold of the Capitol last night, we’re still basically at a stalemate. Gov. Scott Walker appeared on Meet the Press yesterday and delivered the same robotic talking points about how municipalities negotiating with their employees means we have to bar negotiations with public employees, and how the munis need “tools” to be able to avoid services cuts. Not one person has challenged Walker on what he means by “tools.” But it’s clear he means “pay cuts for local workers.” We know that Walker’s budget, due tomorrow, will include over $1 billion in cuts to local schools and local government. He doesn’t want the municipalities to restructure their workplaces, he just wants them to use their new leverage through the ban on collective bargaining to cut worker salaries or benefits, and balance the budget completely on their backs. He wants the munis to be the bad guys, not him. And he has this funny way of explaining it by calling it “tools,” and nobody has delved deeper into that.
As for the Senate Democrats, they aren’t budging, either.
“I think obviously people would like to move forward with this and find an agreement that protects workers’ rights and balances the budget,” said Mike Browne, spokesman for Democratic state senate minority leader Mark Miller.
Asked when the Democrats would return to Wisconsin from various locations in Illinois, Browne said, “Not today.”
Nothing’s going to happen certainly until tomorrow, when the Governor releases his budget. And that’s why holding the Capitol last night was so important. As Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now told me in the Rotunda, the budget release will be explosive. The protesters have been very good at disseminating information; lots of people in the Rotunda are budget experts now. They know all about the executive takeover of BadgerCare and the no-bid contracts for heating and cooling plants. Remember, the budget repair bill deals with only a $137 billion million shortfall. The two-year budget will have to fill $3.6 billion, and it’ll be ugly. And Walker’s policy ideas that we could see in the budget include, as an example, splitting off UW-Madison from the University system, which will inspire outrage among the UW-heavy protesters. The protests will only grow after tomorrow and the release of the budget, which Walker moved out of the Capitol deliberately.
So we wait. And we wait to get confirmation on whether Sen. Dale Schultz (R) will confirm his no vote on the budget repair bill. So far they’re not returning phone calls. But while this was expected because of Schultz’ district and his prior talk of compromise, it got a huge cheer in the Capitol last night. It lowers the threshold of Republican Senators to kill the bill down from three to two. If there’s a compromise to be had here, it’ll come from the Senate, not from Scott Walker. He missed his chance to declare victory when the unions agreed to his pension and health care terms, and is now all in. We’ll see if all the other 18 Republican state Senators join him in walking the plank, or if the “Fab 14″ Senate Dems come back first.
Perhaps negotiating will prevail. It worked last night in the Capitol.