April 19, 2011

Senate passes budget; special session expected

The Senate Monday night passed its bipartisan version of the 2011-2013 operating budget (ESHB 1087) on a vote of 34-13 with two excused. 

With passage come negotiations between the House and Senate, with the governor looking over their shoulder, to iron out differences between the various plans. More on that in a moment. 

But the Senate budget is pretty much as it was rolled out last week, with these notable exceptions:
  • On residential habilitation centers, the Senate budget does not specify which institutions would be targeted for closure, but it’s understood two unnamed RHCs would close under their plan. The original Senate budget pegged Frances Haddon Morgan Center and Rainier School for closure, while the governor and House plans would close the Morgan Center and Yakima Valley School. The Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. Maralyn Chase of the 32nd District that would have funded continued operation of all five RHCs.
  • The Senate adopted an amendment from Sen. Jim Kastama of the 25th District that says a manager whose job is eliminated may not bump into a classified position unless he or she held that classified position (or a similar position) within the last three years. The Kastama amendment also says that such a displaced manager who does get a new job may not get paid higher than is “commensurate” with the duties of the new position.

We should know within the next day and a half if (more likely when) a special session will start. All sides say they need more time to work out differences and pass the 70 or so policy bills necessary to implement the budget. The other complication is many lawmakers want to break for Easter. The scheduled end of the 105-day session is April 24, next Sunday, Easter. 

There is even some talk of breaking as early as tomorrow, then convene in special session Monday. But it’s all speculation at this point. 

What is important for you to know is you need to keep getting calls and e-mails into the Legislature. 

Our core issues haven’t changed – and you can enhance them with your specific interest:
  • Fund state employee contracts.
  • Protect workers and clients from institutional closures.
  • Retain funding for medical interpreters required by Medicaid patients whose first language is not English.
  • Preserve early retirement incentives for state employees’ services.
  • Support user fees necessary to retain critical natural resource agencies.
  • Support public safety in Corrections, Fish and Wildlife and other agencies.
  • Reject the plan to privatize all of Child Welfare Services.
  • Close billions in tax loopholes to preserve the safety net.
Call 1-800-562-6000 and deliver those messages to legislators on ESHB 1087. And go to our website for e-mail calls to action and sign up for electronic updates to your phone or computer. 


For Federation members, there are some notable differences between the budgets. Our goal for a final budget is one that mitigates or eliminates damage to the services you provide. 
  • State employee contracts (negotiated collective bargaining agreements):  All three budgets (governor, House, Senate) fund the negotiated contracts, but the Senate imposes additional illegal furlough days for those under contract earning more than $50,000 a year (with some exemptions).
  • Institutions: All three close Maple Lane School, the excellent juvenile rehabilitation facility in south Thurston County.
    The governor and House budget close Frances Haddon Morgan Center and Yakima Valley School. The Senate closes two unnamed residential habilitation centers.

    The Senate would close an additional forensic unit admissions ward at Western State Hospital and cut staff by 3 percent at Eastern State Hospital and the Child Study and Treatment Center.
  • Medical Interpreters: The Governor cut funding. The House cut funding by 40 percent. The Senate cuts funding by 25 percent with good budget language requiring reform of the costly brokerage system that siphons money from front-line interpretive services.
  • Pensions: The Governor’s budget eliminates early retirement benefits in PERS 2 and PERS 3; the House and Senate do not. All three budgets eliminate the automatic cost-of-living adjustments for PERS 1 retirees.
  • Agency consolidation: The governor would merge several natural resource agencies; the House and Senate do not.
    All three would move the Department of Information Services (DIS) into a new Consolidated Technology Services agency. The House specifically retains collective bargaining and civil service rights for affected employees.

    All three would merge the rest of DIS, General Administration, Personnel and the State Printer into a Department of Enterprise Services.

    The Senate, however, following the mandate in SB 5931, handles the technology and enterprise services together, but mandates privatization of mail services, printing and the motor pool and cuts collective bargaining rights. Very dangerous. Very Wisconsin.
  • Fees for Natural Resource programs: All three assume user fees to replace state General Fund dollars, including the Discover Pass to fund Parks, Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources, and other user fees in Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources, Ecology and Agriculture.

    The Senate would achieve additional savings by consolidating several administrative functions among several agencies.
  • Workers' Compensation: The governor and House do not include the “compromise and release” plan to pressure injured workers to settle claims with lump-sum payments, harming their long-term recovery. The governor does support the concept. The Senate includes this bad plan in its budget proposal.
  • Higher Education: State colleges and universities all take substantial hits, with the Senate cutting most at about $640 million.
  • Basic Health Plan: The governor would eliminate the Basic Health Plan provided by Federation members in the Health Care Authority. The House would retain it, but cap enrollment at 41,200. The Senate also retains it, but would cut the number of enrollees to 34,000 over the next two years.
  • Corrections: The governor and House eliminate tolling. The Senate retains it.

  • Health Savings Accounts: The governor and House have no health savings accounts, while the Senate assumes implementation of HSAs in the Public Employees Benefits Board.
  • Productivity Board: The governor and House keep it, the Senate cuts it. This is the board that oversees the money-saving state employee suggestion program.

None of the three budget plans assumes any new revenue or closing tax loopholes. But the Senate and House have introduced multiple bills to close loopholes. Sponsors admit they may not come up for a vote because of the Initiative 1053 requirement that a two-thirds super-majority of the House and Senate must pass them.

But as a result of the Week of Action and the big April 8 rally and the People’s Walk for Our Future that ended at the Capitol Monday, the fact that lawmakers are talking about closing tax loopholes is a major victory.

Sen. Steve Conway of the 29th District told the People’s Walk members gathered at the sundial by the Capitol Monday that the best hope in the not-too-distant future is the bill to ask voters to exempt loophole closures from the two-thirds requirement.  

That referendum is in Senate Bill 5944 sponsored by Sen. Ed Murray of the 43rd District, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The best hope is that the Legislature passes SB 5944 and then voters OK it in November. Lawmakers would return in January 2012 and take up the various loophole closure bills introduced last week; they all remain alive until then.

So, we have to mitigate the damage in the next few weeks, hope for a moral budget and push ahead for the tougher fight to close tax loopholes – and make it easier to close tax loopholes.

Members of several religious groups are fasting at the Capitol this week to demonstrate the need for a moral budget. Your calls and e-mails can help them – and the people you serve.

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