This morning on the Charlie Sykes radio show, Wisconsin state senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald explained how his caucus decided to end the month-long standoff over the budget repair bill last night.
“This option had been out there,” Fitzgerald said of voting on the bill with a simple-majority present for a quorum rather than the three-fifths required for some budgetary votes.
Fitzgerald said the caucus decided to move the bill, even while Democrats remained in hiding in Illinois, when all members came to "the same conclusion that these guys weren’t coming back and that they were jerking our chain" and when Republican members realized they only needed a simple majority to vote on the budget provisions requiring government workers to pay more for health care and pension benefits--a move that will save the state more than $1.7 billion over two years.
“When we peeled [some budgetary provisions requiring a three-fifths quorum] off and saw what that looked like and it still included the 5.6 [percent pension contribution] and the 12 [percent health insurance premium contribution], a lot of our members were like, 'Yeah, let’s go this way,'” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said the caucus came to believe the Democrats weren't coming back on Sunday night, when senate Democrats quickly disavowed their comments to the Wall Street Journal that they may return soon: “After Sunday night … I said, 'They’re not coming back, you guys. This is bigger than just the collective bargaining. This is bigger than budget repair. This is about unions nationwide. We’re the tip of the spear.'"
Though it wasn't entirely clear what he meant, Fitzgerald said that "some of the members of our caucus" had discussed moving on from the budget repair bill if they didn't vote on it within a week. Fitzgerald said the sentiment of these members was that "if this goes beyond this week, we’re in a whole different territory, where we may have to walk away from this process and just come back in April.”
Fitzgerald adamantly defended the legality of the senate's vote, which is being challenged by Democrats. “We knew that there was going to be a legal challenge, so why would we leave ourselves open on that front?" said Fitzgerald. "We did everything in a very methodical way.”
“We went to every agency,” said Fitzgerald, and asked each agency to confirm “that in fact what we’re doing here does not trip that three-fifths quorum. And all three of them said, 'Absolutely, we think you’re right where you should be on this bill.’"
“We reviewed everything, made sure it was legal.”