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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 duck session. 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 contracts did not include pay increases, Governor-elect Scott Walker, the conservative Republican Milwaukee County Executive, felt that the state’s public employee unions could and would have to concede more, given that the state faces a $150 million deficit in the current fiscal year and a staggering $3.3 billion deficit in the next 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 decisive vote of Assemblyman Jeff Wood, an independent who was released from jail (he was incarcerated due to a drunk-driving conviction) to make the vote. But when the contracts reached the Senate, two Democrats, including the outgoing Senate Majority leader, voted with the Republicans to reject the contracts, which have scuttled the agreements. To show their displeasure with their Majority Leader’s vote, Democrats immediately voted to replace their Majority Leader, who will hold the title for only two weeks before the Republicans assume total control of the Legislature.

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

Stay tuned.