First, allow me thank those who called, emailed, and visited me in Madison over the past week. The vast majority of those citizens have been courteous and respectful. I want everyone to know that, and I want to thank you for that. My office has been overwhelmed with phone calls and emails from constituents sharing their concerns about the budget repair bill. Our voicemail box has been full since Sunday and impossible to empty. To those who could not get through, I apologize—we did the best we could.
I ran for State Senate because Wisconsin is in crisis. I took the oath of office with the knowledge that the state’s current fiscal path is not sustainable in the long term. Over the last six weeks, as I have been briefed on the state of Wisconsin finances, my thoughts have changed. I now know that Wisconsin’s budget trajectory is not sustainable even in the short term.
Wisconsin has a $3.6 billion deficit. We owe over $56 million to the state of Minnesota, accruing interest daily. We owe $200 million to the Patients Compensation Fund. To continue meeting the health needs of Wisconsin families, Medicaid requires an additional $153 million by June 30th. Our budget crisis is not in six months. It is now.
I never imagined I would be voting on something as emotionally charged as this budget repair bill. This debate is not just emotional for the thousands who emailed, called and visited my office over the last week— it is emotional and personal for me. My daughter is a teacher. My neighbors and friends are union. I was a negotiator for the Racine Police Association and a proud public union member for thirty years. I know, personally, the value of opposing parties coming together to find mutual agreement.
But Wisconsin’s budget shortfall can be ignored no longer. The simple truth is this: collective bargaining is changing because Wisconsin’s fiscal crisis demands it. I have heard the concerns of my constituents that they would lose crucial workplace protections. I have worked with my Senate colleagues to ensure that workers at the state and local level, including teachers, have these workplace protections. It is important to note that:
- State and local employees who have civil service protections for grievance and discipline retain those rights.
- Public workers serving without these protections will now have those protections.
- Progressive Discipline still exists.
- Just Cause is still required for termination.
- Workplace safety must be addressed at all levels of government
- Workers retain the right to have a representative present at any grievance, termination, or discipline hearing.
- The union still exists.
I would not have supported the bill without these additional worker protections.
I believe this will be the most difficult vote I will ever take. I have lost sleep over this vote, I have agonized over this vote and I have prayed for guidance on this vote. No compromise is perfect and it is said that a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy. That is certainly the case today.
I have debated, argued, fought, and fought some more to retain and add these critical worker protections. The alternatives are no protections and no worker rights or massive worker layoffs. I would much rather have workers keep their jobs and their protections.
This bill has my support because it is better than the alternatives.