The Senate Republican caucus is sending mixed signals. Although I haven't been able to get in touch with Republicans, most of whom have been meeting at an undisclosed location most of the day, Wispolitics has a very interesting rumor:
GOP Sens. Dale Schultz and Van Wanggaard are proposing an alternative to the guv's budget repair bill that would strip public employees of their ability to collectively bargain on wages, pensions and health care costs through 2013 before reinstating those rights, according to a source familiar with caucus discussion.
Public employees would retain their ability to bargain on other issues, and the alternative calls for including firefighters, police, state patrol and state inspectors in the proposed changes to wages, health care and pensions. Gov. Scott Walker had proposed excluding them.
Schultz and Wanggaard have histories that indicate union sympathies. Schultz was a supporter of granting UW faculty collective bargaining rights, and Wanggaard has been a negotiator for police unions in the past.
The sunset provision, which would mandate that collective bargaining rights be restored in 2 years, is the most significant difference between this bill and the original draft. It means the legislature would have to vote again in two years to keep unions out of the bargaining process permanently.
Another key difference is that the most recent draft would not bar unions from collecting automatic dues, and it would not force workers to re-certify their unions every year. Essentially, the Wisconsin public sector would not become "right-to-work."
Nevertheless, in the short-term, the legislation is much even more severe than what Walker proposed. It eliminates bargaining rights on wages, as well as benefits.
Here's my take on the bill: It is a truce. By proposing temporary measures which are even more drastic than the ones proposed by the governor, it allows the GOP to save face with its base and stick by its argument that curtailing collective bargaining rights is only being done to balance the budget (a dubious argument). However, by adding a sunset provision, Schultz et al. is sending a message to Democrats that they can restore unions to their previous power simply by winning back one house of the legislature. And because unions will still be able to collect dues from workers, they will have the funds to conduct an aggressive campaign over the next two years.
But here's the catch. And it's a big catch I forgot about until a facebook commenter reminded me: This is Wisconsin. The governor is the most powerful in the nation and his partial veto could essentially restore the legislation to his original proposal.