Unless the Wisconsin Supreme Court gets in the spirit and makes a definitive ruling that affirms sweeping changes to collective bargaining by Tuesday afternoon, legislative Republicans intend to introduce this as a budget amendment.
"If need be, we are going to have to pass collective bargaining again," affirmed Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitgerald at a press conference in the state Capitol Monday morning. But he said the Supreme Court, which only last week heard arguments as to whether it should take up the matter, months after being asked to do so, still "has time" to act.
How much time? Fitzgerald, noting that formal deliberation of the budget bill is set to begin Tuesday afternoon, answered "all of today, part of tomorrow." Asked by Isthmus if he was asserting that the budget amendment would be presented Tuesday afternoon unless the court makes this unnecessary, Fitzgerald replied, "You heard correctly, sir."
Fitzgerald's statement was the strongest statement to date that Republicans are prepared to include the collective bargaining changes as part of the budget, and the most specific as to timeline. He further indicated that the party's goal is to pass a budget by the June 30 deadline that past legislatures have routinely ignored. "We want to get it done on time."
Less than an hour earlier, in the same room, Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said he was still uncertain as to whether the Republicans would add collective bargaining to the bill. He indicated further that he did not consider the measure a slam-dunk, noting that four GOP representatives previously opposed this change.
Democratic lawmakers were to get a fuller briefing on the budget from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau set to begin at noon, in an open caucus session. "At this point," Barca said Monday, "we're not completely clear what's in there."
Rep. Donna Seidel (D-Wausau) also railed on the lack of transparency in the process so far: "We believe an honest budget ought to be open for scrutiny. The public deserves an opportunity to know what's in this budget and to weigh in on it."
The Democrats alleged that the budget contain tax hikes for those least able to afford them, notably seniors and working families, through changes to programs like the Homestead Tax Credit. And they clucked that it included dozens of policy items that had nothing to do with spending.
Fitzgerald hotly disputed such assertions, saying all the Republicans have set out to do is what countless Wisconsin families do all the time: Live within their means.
"We are going to stop spending more than we're taking in," he said. "This is about getting some fiscal sanity back to Wisconsin. For the first time, you're going to see a party that doesn't just kick the can down the road."
In-between these competing versions of reality by party stalwarts, Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubb spoke of his department's preparation for what is expected to be a heightened presence of protesters as the budget is debated and passed.
Tubbs stated that visitors to the building will not be allowed to bring in noisemakers like drums, and while they can hoist hand-held signs without sticks, no one would be permitted to post signs to any surface. He added oddly that, in the past, "some signs [have been] offensive to some people" and were deemed "inappropriate" but did not elaborate on who would decide what signs were inappropriate and how they would be dealt with.
Similarly, Tubbs indicated that police would be monitoring the building's capacity for safety reasons, but refused to say what it considered the building's capacity to be: "At this particular time, I'm not in a position to respond to that."
Protesters would be allowed in the building and to freely enter when the official business was being conducted, but otherwise not allowed to remain in the Capitol past 6 p.m. Tubbs indicated that items like sleeping bags and backpacks will not be allowed so no one gets the idea that the Capitol is a place where they can sleep, like Walkerville.
Tubb said his goal is voluntary compliance. "If voluntary compliance cannot be met, there's other measures for bringing about order and peace."
Finally, on access issues, Tubbs noted that the Capitol, as of Monday morning, has two additional points of entry, bringing the total to four. And he said his staff was working to make sure that people would be able to safely leave the building through multiple exits.
Earlier the Madison Fire Department wrote the Capitol up for violations over concerns about locked exits. Tubbs says changes have been made but would not say definitely that no doors were still locked from the inside.
At noon exactly, as protesters in the Rotunda sang "We Shall Overcome," a uniformed police officer attempted to exit the Capitol through the revolving door on the King Street side. The officer pushed against the door, as people rushing to get out in an emergency would doubtless do (as others urgently pressed behind them), and found that it is locked in place.
Fortunately, there was no emergency and the officer had time to find another exit.