Just when you thought compromise was impossible in Madison, Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) and Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) have offered an alternative budget repair bill to Gov. Scott Walker, with the hope that the stalemate that has gripped Madison for the past three weeks can be broken.
The bill maintains some of the fiscal policy of Walker’s original – it requires state employees to make a 5.8 percent contribution to their pension plans and 12.6 percent to their health insurance premiums and allows for the refinancing of bonds to save $165 million in interest payments.
Gone in the Democrats’ proposal – the further restriction of employee bargaining rights, the no-bid sale of state-owned power plants and the appointment of 35 staffers to Department of Administration.
“Working together we have drafted and are introducing a new bill that addresses our current fiscal issues,” Miller said.“Introducing a new bill allows us to move past the disputes of the last weeks without anyone having to backtrack on a vote they have taken or cross any lines in the sand that they have drawn.”
Miller adds that this proposal will even create a net balance that is greater than what Walker proposed, by eliminating the non-fiscal “policy-pork.”
In a memo accompanying the alternative bill, the Democrats dismiss Walker’s repeated assertion that the state is broke, but do acknowledge there are three areas that have exceeded the budgeted amounts set in 2009.
Those three areas are medical assistance, which needs $153.2 million to cover payments through June 30; the public defender and private bar fund which is short $3.5 million; and a $21.7 million shortfall at the Department of Corrections.
Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) says the shortages in the current fiscal year will be covered by the proposed employee contributions and refinancing.
He added that even though Republicans have already moved the deadline date for the refinancing over the last three weeks in an effort to bring his caucus home, the Democrats believe there is still time to complete the financing and reap the savings.
“This bill keeps the deep cuts to the pensions, health care and pay of workers,” Larson said. ” And these are the deepest cuts in a generation. But this bill doesn’t take away our workers’ ability to organize.”
Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) describes the alternative bill as “listening to the people of Wisconsin, not the Koch Brothers, not the Club for Growth or the other special interest pushing this assault on working Wisconsin families.”
The alternative bill is ready to be introduced on both the Assembly and Senate floors, as soon as the Republicans agree to it. Larson said both chambers would have to dismiss the original budget repair bills, AB11 and SB11, before beginning debate on this proposal.
Larson said agreement on this compromise bill would bring his caucus back, but that agreement will need the assistance of moderate Republicans who have been wavering in their support of the original document offered by Walker.
Earlier on Tuesday, Walker released some of the emails exchanged between his staff and Democrat Senators. He said the emails demonstrate that he has been working to end the impasse on the budget repair bill.
But early last night, Walker rebuffed an invitation to meet with Barca, union leaders and members of the media, calling it “political grandstanding.” The meeting with Barca was previously scheduled for this morning, but representatives requested opening it up to union leaders and the media in an effort to demonstrate “a good-faith effort toward negotiating.”
Will the negotiations finally move forward in earnest? Does the Democrats’ alternative budget repair have a chance? Will a moderate Republican come forward? Your guess is as good as anyone’s.