A flurry of no good, very bad activity
There's almost too much going on these days to keep up, even for a political nerd like me whose job it pretty much is to do so. Frankly, that's probably the point: Rush through so much legislation at once that no one can keep proper track. That certainly makes it easier to sneak in things that might otherwise meet a lot of resistance.
Today the Assembly meets in what's called "Extraordinary Session" to discuss the biennial budget, chalk-full of the modern GOP's wildest fantasies regarding deregulation, defunding, and probably de-unionizing.
What is an Extraordinary Session? Rep. Mark Pocan was kind enough to give us all the heads up about it in one of his regular video blogs, and this official document lays it all out. The blog Badger Democracy sums it up like this, though:
Under this "Extraordinary Session," the Legislature is free to suspend most rules regarding bill notification, debate, and may consider the entire budget, as the purpose of the Session dictates. The Legislature may also expand the Extraordinary Session to whatever other business it chooses upon completion of the budget. This due to the fact that the Legislature "makes its own rules" (so to speak) under this type of session. As long as the Republicans have the votes, they can remain in Extraordinary Session, free to pass whatever they choose. The entire State Budget being taken up in Extraordinary Session is unprecedented.
Indeed, in the 80 years since it was created this particular move has never before been used to pass a budget. Why now? I think the reasons are pretty obvious. With recall elections looming in the summer against enough Republican senators that a flip in control of that body is entirely possible, why wait until you might not have the votes to ram through whatever piece of legislation you'd like?
Of course, they might already not have the votes, according to Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who has been cagey about whether or not enough of his party will vote to pass the budget as-is.
Dissent over things like Senior Care and state funding for municipal recycling programs have cropped up among the usually lockstep Republicans, and with many facing severe criticism in their home districts (if not the outright threat of being recalled), it's possible there may even be some trepidation about plans to add the provision to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights into the budget.
The budget will likely also include things like $2.3 billion in tax breaks for corporations over the next 10 years, on top of $1.6 billion in cuts to public schools, $250 million in cuts to the UW System, and $71 million taken from the Wisconsin technical college system.
One thing's for sure, though: It's going to be a very interesting week in Wisconsin.
Please remain cool, calm and collected
I've been hearing concerns about outside agitators being sent in to rile up the crowds and manufacture a riot so as to benefit Walker and his team, and certainly the police presence at the Capitol has grown significantly this week. So far, however, I've seen no evidence of the former tactic and I sincerely hope that no one resorts to such methods.
The vast majority of the people with whom I've spoken who oppose the budget and plan to protest are peaceful and have no intention of resorting to any even remotely violent means to spread their message.
I would ask all of them, then, to be on the lookout for anyone who looks to be getting worked up and over-heated in the coming days. It's up to all of us to look out for each other and make sure nothing gets out of hand. A kind but firm word, a bottle of water, can go a long way toward diffusing a tense situation. Worse comes to worse, find a police officer and let them know if one person seems unusually agitated and tries to start anything counterproductive.
My hope is that none of that will be needed, of course, and that law enforcement will respect the right of the people to express their deep displeasure over what's happening inside their capitol building.
As always I'll be posting updates through the day from my Twitter account if you'd like to follow along/can't make it to the Capitol yourself.
I will also be posting more in-depth updates about the Legislature's actions and the protests right here at Emily's Post throughout the week, so please do check back often.
You can also participate in this Isthmus Daily Page liveblog of the Extraordinary Session.