Tag Archives: local control

Wisconsin Senate, Walker go after collective bargaining agreements

The state Senate has passed a Republican bill that would limit union influence on bids for public projects. The bill, which passed 19-13 on party lines this week, prohibits state and local governments from requiring contractors bidding on their projects to enter into collective bargaining agreements called project labor agreements.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, who sponsored the measure, says it gives non-union firms the chance to bid on more projects.

But Democrats say it’s the latest iteration of Republican attacks on unions.

Both sides acknowledged few places in Wisconsin currently use project labor agreements, which can establish rules controlling work on a project upfront, such as setting work hours or requiring workers to join a union.

But union leaders and Democrats say PLAs can keep especially complex projects on schedule and ensure safe working conditions. They say local governments should get to decide whether to require PLAs or not.

“For a party that likes to talk about local control, this flies in its face,” Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling told Republicans. She said it invites non-union, out-of-state companies to steal work from Wisconsin companies.

Vukmir, who is from Brookfield, said her intent is to level the playing field, not tilt it. “What this piece of legislation does is establish neutrality, it establishes fairness,” Vukmir said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a news release following the vote that the measure helps guarantee taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently.

Republicans rejected amendments from Democratic senators that would have required subcontractors to prioritize hiring veterans and give preference to minority and female-owned businesses.

More than 20 other states have passed similar legislation. The bill’s language is a variation of a sample policy provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit that pushes free market legislation.

The Assembly is expected to vote on the bill in March. If both the Senate and Assembly pass it, it would then go to Gov. Scott Walker who can sign it into law.

Walker’s budget proposal released Wednesday included prohibiting units of government from requiring PLAs on bids for public projects.


Wis. Republicans hand over local control to corporate America

There’s a theory in politics — subsidiarity — that maintains higher levels of government should handle only tasks that cannot be accomplished at lower levels. National defense is a good example of how that theory works; it’s not left to each state or city to defend itself.

In that spirit, the Republican Party’s stated goal is to reduce the power and scope of the federal government. State government, their argument goes, is more democratic and accountable than Washington. State officials have a deeper understanding of the unique challenges, values and goals of their constituents. And in turn, local office-holders have a deeper understanding of their own constituents than does the state.

It’s not an unreasonable position, until you start to distort it beyond recognition. And that’s exactly what Wisconsin Republicans have done.

First, to show their disdain for the feds, Wisconsin Republicans made a great show of turning down federal funds after capturing control of state government in 2011. Showily flexing his ideological bicep, Gov. Scott Walker turned down about $2 billion for Medicare expansion, high-speed rail development, and high-speed internet expansion in the state. It didn’t seem to bother him or his GOP colleagues that a portion of that money would originally came from Wisconsin taxpayers. Nor did it seem to concern them that the move cost the state thousands of jobs, as well as expanded health care and an improved business environment. Wisconsin now has the second-highest insurance rates in the nation.

In short, your representatives at the state level cut off your nose to spite Washington’s face — all in the name of local empowerment.

Yet, in a glaring philosophical disconnect, Wisconsin’s Republican leaders also believe — in the strongest way possible — that the virtues of local control come to a screeching halt at the doors of the state Capitol. Ever since they’ve commanded the state, Republicans have engaged in an unprecedented usurpation of municipal, village and other local government bodies’ powers in order to stop them from interfering with the moneyed interests that feather their nests.

A memo issued earlier this year by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau detailed more than 100 ways in which the Republican Legislature and the governor have eliminated local control while also increasing the number of unfunded mandates — i.e., costs — passed on to local communities. The Republicans’ actions have made it impossible for many local elected officials to balance their budgets while providing services for their constituents. That’s one of the reasons your potholes don’t get filled.

Just a few weeks ago, in his latest assault at local control, Walker signed a law taking away the power of local jurisdictions to protect their water. The Republican-backed law forbids municipalities from stopping property owners who want to develop land or transfer properties to erect projects that could harm local water supplies. According to the new law, in legal cases where property owners are at odds with local ordinances protecting natural resources, presiding judges must rule in favor of the property owners over the good of nearly everyone else.

That law was part of what the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters calls a “developers’ grab bag,” which along with a comparable “polluters’ grab bag,” has given polluting industries and land developers free rein over the state’s natural resources by granting them authority over local governments.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel has done his part to support this campaign, which makes corporations not just people but Super People. In mid-May, he ruled that environmental officials at the Department of Natural Resources cannot make decisions about high-capacity wells in order to prevent damage to local water supplies — not if Big Ag disagrees with those decisions. Schimel’s ruling puts the state’s groundwater, lakes and streams in jeopardy.

It’s not only environmental authority that the state’s GOP leaders have usurped. In the past legislative session, Republican changes included disrupting Wisconsin’s popular and cost-effective system of delivering services to seniors and those with disabilities. The party opted instead to turn those services over to for-profit companies. Republicans are also interfering with local school board elections.

By electing a solid Republican majority, voters in the state have empowered their own disempowerment while making very rich strangers even richer.

How’s that for subsidiarity?