By M.D. Kittle Wisconsin Reporter
Do you remember all of that righteous — many would call it self-righteous — indignation by the buddies of public unions after Republicans pushed through Act 10 last year?
State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, quickly filed a complaint with the Dane County District Attorney’s office bemoaning what he deemed the Republican majority’s fast and unlawful passage of the controversial bill that effectively gutted collective bargaining for public employees in the state.
Barca’s beef was that the legislative conference committee where Republicans alone passed the bill was a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law. Of course, the Democrats in the Senate, the Fleeing 14, had effectively checked out of the legislative process by that time.
A Dane County judge agreed, killing the legislation until a divided state Supreme Court brought Act 10 back to life.
A long lineup of Dane County liberals filed their own complaints — then-Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Kathleen Falk, acting Dane County executive at the time, and District Attorney Ismael R. Ozanne.
“What Senate Republicans did last night in a rushed and illegal manner radically changes what county government can do,” Falk said in a statement following the Senate vote that approved Act 10.
“In my 35 years of working with the state Legislature, I’ve never seen such a blatant abuse of power and process as what took place in our Capitol Wednesday evening,” she said at the time.
Kathleen, you’ll have to excuse thousands of Dane County taxpayers for tasting the salt of irony in the Dane County’s lightning-fast move to extend collective bargaining agreements with its employee unions just hours after a judge overturned major portions of the law.
In a process Dane County Board member Dave Wiganowsky described as “flying faster than the Concord,” 22 board members signed a petition asking Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and the board’s Personnel and Finance Committee to “begin as soon as possible to bargain in good faith with our various bargaining units.”
They weren’t kidding. The petition is dated Sept. 19 — Wednesday. A little more than 24 hours later the committee was set to vote on a resolution supporting a one-year contract, through 2015, effectively extending pre-Act 10 agreements signed off on before the collective-bargaining reform law went into effect. The full board is expected to vote on the measure, which appears to have plenty of support, an hour after the committee meeting.
The board is scurrying like rats before a flashlight, trying to strike a deal before the clock strikes midnight on Dane County Judge Juan Colas’ ruling killing key portions of Act 10.
County Board Chairman Scott McDonell and Sharon Corrigan, chairwoman of the Personnel and Finance Committee, admitted as much in a memo — sans the rat analogy.
“The reason the 2015 collective bargaining agreement is before you in such short notice is that it is unclear whether we will still have the right to bargain with our unions two weeks or a month from now,” they wrote to fellow supervisors.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has appealed the judge’s decision to the Court of Appeals, and has asked Colas to stay his ruling until a higher court settles the matter. Colas said he will offer a written response.
It’s no surprise that the collective-bargaining capital of Wisconsin, located in the county with the state’s heaviest tax burden, would move, Wiganowsky contends stealthily, to cut a quick deal with unions. Wiganowsky believes its political payback to a liberal, union-loving board of supervisors, many of whom owe their positions to organized labor.
The county has been clear about where its allegiances lie.
In April, voters overwhelmingly supported this leading-the-witness referendum question: “Should all Wisconsin workers have the right to seek safe working conditions and fair pay through collective bargaining?”
McDonell and Corrigan said they believe the board should “lead by example.”
Leading by example, it seems to me, isn’t talking out of both sides of your mouth.
If these indignant public servants believe Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature acted in such a rash and hasty manner in “illegally” pushing through Act 10, why is it the board moving so hastily to ram through a contract extension that Wiganowsky said could cost taxpayers at least $2 million?
It’s not clear how much as of this posting. The resolution does not contain a fiscal note. The county executive’s office said that may be because the tentative offer isn’t a done deal just yet. If a tentative deal is done, that likely means county officials have been meeting with union leaders since very shortly after the judge’s decision. Maybe before, Wiganowsky said.
Wiganowsky, who is opposed to the resolution and the speed of deliberations, said he had to call the county office to find out about the resolution. He contends opposition voices aren’t really welcome at the table.
“It sure smells like Chicago politics,” the supervisor said.
I tried to talk to the board chairman about all of that. He didn’t return my call.
Dane County certainly has the best interest of public employees in mind — public employees who, by the way, did give up about $2 million in their contracts to help the county out.
But what about the interests of the average taxpayer in a county with the highest property taxes in the state? Property taxes in Dane County have soared 32.8 percent over the past decade, according to a report from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
Typically speaking, collective bargaining doesn’t cost taxpayers less. And, it would appear, Dane County’s public employee unions are looking for a return on their $2 million giveback.
Will a new deal with the unions add to Dane County’s approximately $240 million debt, which has more than tripled in the past 10 years?
Or will something have to go to cover increased employee compensation?
Wiganowsky asks the same questions.
“How are we going to justify this money? We will bury money in the capital budget this year to justify this,” he said. That means a road left unrepaired or a new park shelved, perhaps.
Or maybe something else.
“We are going to have to cut a human-service programs. We’ll have to take something away from people who need it,” the supervisor said, noting the budget holds the line on funding for service providers in programs that assist children, the elderly and others.
Where’s the righteous indignation now?
Contact Kittle at [email protected]