BY JOHN FUND – The biggest news story in Wisconsin remains the fallout from Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining reforms. Yesterday the state Supreme Court invalidated a lower court order blocking implementation of the law, but now the battleground will shift to the summer’s set of nine special elections which feature dueling efforts by Democrats and Republicans to oust state senators of the opposite party.
The court’s action means that state employees will pay higher contributions to their health and pension plans starting in August, and they will no longer have hundreds of dollars a year deducted automatically from their paychecks for union dues.
It’s that latter reform that is driving union-backed efforts to recall six GOP state senators who voted for the measure. Their recall elections are scheduled for July 12. A week later, three Democratic state senators who left the state to prevent a vote on Mr. Walker’s proposals will face voters in separate recall elections.
The special-election results in several districts will likely be close because Wisconsin is easily the most politically polarized state in the country. A May survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, found that Mr. Walker’s approval rating among Democrats was a microscopic 9%, while 87% of Republicans gave him a thumbs up. The gap between the two groups was the largest for any governor in the country.
Overall, the May poll found that 43% of the state’s voters approved of Mr. Walker’s performance, while 54% disapproved. Republicans are somewhat worried about the upcoming recall elections, but they believe that the personal popularity of most of their incumbents will allow them to retain office. In addition, through a quirk in the election law, most of the districts in which legislators are being recalled this summer voted significantly more Republican than the state as a whole.
Republicans also plan on touting their accomplishments. This week the state legislature will pass a two-year budget that closes a $3 billion budget gap and will put the state’s long-term finances into balance for the first time in more than a decade. Much of the savings in the budget will come from the more flexible labor contracts that the new rules governing state and local employees allow.