During a Democratic gubernatorial primary debate on Wednesday night, the two leading Democrats vying for a chance to take on Governor Scott Walker in the June 5 recall election strongly disagreed over their abilities to undo Walker's budget reforms if Walker is defeated.
Dane county executive Kathleen Falk, who is supported by Wisconsin's major unions, has promised to veto any budget that doesn't repeal Walker's collective bargaining reforms--effectively pledging a government shutdown if the legislature doesn't restore the power public sector unions lost under Walker. "The only bill that has to pass the legislature is the budget bill," Falk said Wednesday night. "And that’s why the only way to restore it is to put it in the budget bill."
But Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, who is widely seen as the frontrunner and establishment candidate, said Falk's strategy wouldn't work and could lead to a "permanent Scott Walker budget."
According to Barrett, failure to pass a budget wouldn't lead to a government shutdown--it would lead to Walker's budget carrying on indefinitely. "There’s been talk of holding up the budget. To me, this is a dangerous idea," Barrett said. "Wisconsin is different from the federal government and Minnesota and other states. If there is no budget, we will have a permanent Scott Walker budget—a permanent Scott Walker budget. The budget does not have to pass."
Barrett said he would attempt to repeal Walker's union reforms by calling a special legislative session, but he acknowledged that Republicans could block him. Barrett suggested that if Democrats win the win the governor's race and take back the Senate, Republicans in the assembly would change their minds about collective bargaining.
But then Barrett undermined efforts to sway Republicans by calling those who would switch their votes "not brave."
"What I think [the recall] would do is it would change the minds of a lot of those assembly members who voted for this. As they see senator after senator recalled, and their governor recalled, they’re not going to be as brave as they may have been last spring. And if they’re not brave, they may change their vote," Barrett said. "And if they [don't] change their vote, we know who to focus on in November."
If Democrats win the senate and the governor's race, they would need to defeat a significant number of Republicans in the state assembly who voted for Walker's reforms. Republicans control the assembly 59 to 39, but four Republicans voted against Walker's reforms in 2011. (Walker's budget repair bill passed the assembly 53 to 42.)
Barrett is strongly opposed by Wisconsin's chapters of AFSCME, the SEIU, the AFL-CIO, and the teachers' union because he used Walker's reforms to save the city of Milwaukee tens of millions of dollars. According to a report by Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray, unions also oppose Barrett because he proposed a plan in Milwaukee to limit "collective bargaining rights on health insurance, overtime hours, and pension for unionized city workers." Following Wednesday's debate, Barrett told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the report was "inaccurate."
"We worked to try to have a collective bargaining agreement. What we have in Milwaukee that's different from the state is by law--a court decision and a global settlement--our employees do not pay toward their pension, so we were faced with close to $15 million in cuts. So the question was how do we deal with these $15 million in cuts."
But Barrett's actions speak louder than words. The fact that he proposed--and used--limits on collective bargaining in order to save the city money proves the point that public sector unions use collective bargaining to prevent changes to their costly benefits.
Yet the union-backed Kathleen Falk declined to take a shot at Barrett over his record in Milwaukee last night. Asked if she was concerned about Barrett's record on collective bargaining in Milwaukee, Falk told TWS: "He's got his record, and I've got mine."