Gov. Scott Walker said Wisconsin was simply ready to move on.
And once Republican lawmakers were legally comfortable to act on the budget-repair bill without a quorum of the Senate, they gave the state a chance to do so.
That was Walker’s message when he spoke to the media at the Tommy G. Thompson Youth Center at State Fair Park in West Allis on Thursday morning.
“As I’ve traveled the state, what I’ve heard repeatedly … people appreciate what we want to do to try to balance the budget,” Walker said. “They say the health care and pension contributions make sense. But what we’ve heard time and time again is, 'Can’t you find a way to move this thing forward?'”
On Wednesday evening, in a stunning move, the state Senate passed a revised version of the budget repair bill - without Democratic senators returning to vote on the measure.
The bill, among other things, strips public unions' rights to collectively bargain for benefits. It is expected to be passed by the Assembly today.
For three weeks, Senate Democrats have remained out of state to block a vote on the controversial measure. Republicans on Wednesday, however, modified the bill so that it only needed a simple majority to pass — not the 20 votes that the original bill required.
The revised measure was approved by an 18-1 vote.
“There was some talk that just the collective bargaining was in there,” Walker said. “We were able to get the 5 and the 12 percent savings,” in as well, referring to the required 5.8 percent pension requirements and 12.6 percent health insurance premium contributions that all public employees will make.
Walker said the Republican Senators met with three non-partisan agencies to discuss how to pass the bill and still be in compliance with the three-fifths requirement. He did not get into specifics as to how that was accomplished, but said the Senate was confident it could proceed.
“When it became clear that we did not only have to pass the collective bargaining changes but that we could include the health care and pension changes in this measure … we thought it was important to move forward,” Walker said. "We thought, until those opinions (of the agencies) came out, we’d have to break it into pieces to pass it, but this was a way to pass it intact and still comply with the constitution.
“We followed the law, and it allows us to move forward these reforms, which are indeed fiscal. They are not in conflict with the requirement for the quorum, but they are indeed fiscal. They give a fiscal benefit to the state for the remainder of this year.”
Walker said the budget-repair bill will save the state $30 million for the remainder of this year’s fiscal year, which runs through June 30, and keeps 1,500 jobs off the chopping block. He estimated the bill also allows local governments to save nearly $1.5 billion next year, the equivalent of 5,000-6,000 local government jobs he believes would have been lost without it.
Nearly 50 protesters gathered outside the building to demonstrate their disapproval of the bill and how it was passed.
“That’s not democracy. A democracy is when you go to the table and negotiate,” said Jerry Cayo of Wauwatosa. “It’s akin to being a dictator, when people have no rights and he tells them what they’re going to do.”