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Wisconsin's Wild Lame Duck

by John Stephenson / /

The U.S. Congress is not the only legislature busy with a lame ducksession. One state that seems to be challenging Congress for the title of“busiest lame duck session of the year” is Wisconsin.

Last week, outgoing Democrat Governor Jim Doyle completed negotiations on 17 contracts for 39,000 state employees. While the contractsdid not include pay increases, Governor-elect Scott Walker, the conservativeRepublican Milwaukee County Executive, felt that the state’s public employee unionscould and would have to concede more, given that the state faces a $150 milliondeficit in the current fiscal year and a staggering $3.3 billion deficit in thenext two-year budget. But the state and the unions did not reopen negotiations.All that was left was for the State Legislature to approve the contracts.

On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Assembly approved all 17 contracts. All but one passed by a vote of 48-47, thanks to the decisivevote of Assemblyman Jeff Wood, an independent who was released from jail (hewas incarcerated due to a drunk-driving conviction) to make the vote. But whenthe contracts reached the Senate, two Democrats, including the outgoing SenateMajority leader, voted with the Republicans to reject the contracts, which havescuttled the agreements. To show their displeasure with their Majority Leader’svote, Democrats immediately voted to replace their Majority Leader, who willhold the title for only two weeks before the Republicans assume total controlof the Legislature.

New contracts will have to be written, but now Wisconsin’sstate employees unions will sit across the table from a new governor who haspledged to reduce spending without raising taxes. Governor-elect Walker said,in a statement, "I plan to use the flexibility afforded to me to make thetough choices necessary to reduce state spending while still providing coregovernment services."

Stay tuned.