Synopsis of "Budget Repair" Bill

Walker and his political allies can no longer impose on the people. By March of 2011, the so-called “Budget Repair Bill” is widely recognized for what it really is—an unprecedented power grab by an unprincipled governor, his Republican hatchet men in the state legislature, and his corporate cronies.

By virtue of our 14 Democratic state senators absenting themselves from our state, the citizens of Wisconsin have had the time to become informed about what the bill would mean for us. Denounced by workers and a majority of all our citizens, the bill would remove almost all collective bargaining rights for the majority of public sector workers in the state, allow for extensive changes to the state medical assistance program without public input and with almost no legislative oversight, and allow for no-bid sales of state-owned power plants by the Department of Administration with no oversight by the Public Service Commission or the legislature. The main provisions of the bill are summarized below.

Consequences for Collective Bargaining Rights of Public Sector Workers

  • A virtual end to the right to bargain collectively for all public-sector workers except public safety employees (police and fire)

State employees and employees of local government units (including school districts) could only bargain collectively on total base wages. Bargaining on any other compensation, any benefits (such as health insurance, pensions, and paid leave), or any working conditions (such as hours of work, safety issues, and grievance and arbitration procedures) would be prohibited. “Just cause” grievances, only in cases of discharge, suspension, and demotion, would be covered by much weaker statutory provisions, which also cover fewer workers.

  • Complete elimination of all collective bargaining rights for UW System faculty and academic staff, child care providers, employees of the UW Hospitals and Clinics, and home care providers
  • A requirement that the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) hold an annual certification election for each union that represents a collective bargaining unit of public sector workers, except public safety employees

At least 51% of the workers in a collective bargaining unit would have to vote for certification each year, in order to be represented by a union. Failure to certify would result in a mandated 12-month wait before the next certification election. WERC would be required to assess and collect a fee for each annual certification election.

  • A requirement that collective bargaining agreements be limited to one year in length, except for those covering public safety employees
  • An elimination of “fair share agreements” for all but public safety employees

Employees in a collective bargaining unit would not be required to pay their proportionate share of the cost of the collective bargaining process and contract administration.

    A prohibition of the deduction of union dues by the state and local government units, from the earnings of workers, except for public safety employees

Unions would have to collect dues from their members directly.

  • A termination of all collective bargaining agreements that have been extended, as soon as legally possible, except for public safety employees

Direct Economic Consequences for Public Sector Workers

  • A requirement that all public sector workers pay half of their contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS)

Most public employers currently pay both the employer share and the employee share into the WRS, a consequence of past collective bargaining in which employers agreed to increased contributions to the WRS, in exchange for smaller pay increases or no pay increases for employees.

  • A ban on the participation of limited term employees (LTE’s) in the WRS and the associated health insurance benefits
  • A substantial increase in the cost of health insurance for most workers

The bill includes specific amounts to be paid by state workers for the remainder of 2011 and requires that, in future years, the amount paid by public employers be not more than 88% of the plan with the lowest premium cost.

  • A provision that $28 million be taken from WRS reserve accounts to reduce employer costs for providing group health insurance for the last six months of 2011.

Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson raided the Employee Trust Funds in the nineties, was sued successfully, and had to repay the funds with interest. A legal challenge to this provision is certain.

Other Consequences

  • An increase in the number of unclassified division administrator positions by 35 positions

These positions would be politicized, effectively curtailing the independent regulatory function of state agencies.

  • A repeal of a provision that contracts for services be reviewed, under conditions established by Department of Administration rule, in order to ensure that agencies properly utilize the services of state employees, evaluate the feasibility of using LTE’s prior to entering into a contract, and do not enter into any contract in conflict with any collective bargaining agreement

This provision substantially increases the power of the administrative branch to enter into service contracts with few or no checks and balances in place.

  • Provisions that substantial changes to the State’s medical assistance programs may be made with almost no legislative oversight, without public input, and without a full vote of the legislature

These provisions would result in huge cuts to programs that provide health care to Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens.

  • A provision for the no-bid sale of state-owned power plants to anyone for any price, with almost no legislative oversight

This provision disregards Wisconsin’s longstanding tradition of evaluating bids to determine the most fiscally responsible course of action.