Several policy changes are included in Walker’s infamous Budget Repair Bill
Amid the protest of thousands of
Wisconsinites, Gov. Scott Walker is still determined to push forward his budget repair bill (Assembly Bill 11), successfully doing so in the Assembly last week after a 42-hour long debate between Democrats and Republicans.
Now the Senate must follow suit and pass the bill for Walker to be victorious.
As eyes around the nation have been fixated on Wisconsin, we’ve seen the governor and the Republicans stand firm on their respective positions; the Senate Democrats leave the state to prevent the Senate from taking a vote; and citizens – both those for and against the bill – passionately and peacefully camp out at the Capitol in protest.
But what does all of this really mean?
Here’s the deal:
Walker inherited a deficit for the remainder of the 2010-11 fiscal year (which ends on June 30). A report by the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, released January 31, revealed the state has more than $258 million in unpaid bills through the end of the fiscal year, including $3.5 million to the State Public Defenders board, more than $55 million in tax reciprocity payments to Minnesota and a $174 million shortfall in the Medicaid fund for payments to the needy. Not included in the $258 million figure is the more than $200 million a judge has ordered the state to repay to the Patient Compensation Fund.
So, the budget repair bill is Gov. Walker’s attempt at filling $137 million of the state’s deficit by cutting public employees compensation, healthcare and medical assistance; moving monies from some programs to other programs that are experiencing shortfalls and slashing $834 million in K-12 education spending over the next two years.
Public employees’ compensation and collective bargaining rights
Walker wants the public employee union members throughout the state (with the exception of police and fire unions) to contribute 5.8% toward their pensions and 12.6% toward their health insurance premiums, which he says will free up $30 million in the current fiscal year and even more in future years.
He also wants to change the laws that govern collective bargaining rights, basically restricting bargaining of overtime, premium, merit or performance pay, supplemental compensation, pay schedules and automatic pay progressions, among other changes.
While union members were initially resistant, many union representatives have agreed to pay more toward pensions and health insurance premiums, and have asked Walker to leave collective bargaining as is. Walker’s response: No deal.
Healthcare and medical assistance
Under Walker’s proposed plan, the Department of Human Services, with just the consent of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, would have authorization to make program, eligibility and payment changes that would affect nursing homes, the State Centers for the Developmentally Disabled and the Wisconsin Veterans Homes. This means that changes can be made without any involvement by the legislative body.
Such changes could include requiring medical assistance recipients to make cost share payments up to the federal maximum; allowing providers to deny care to those who can’t share the costs; revising provider reimbursements for certain groups of recipients; and setting standards for establishing and verifying eligibility for assistance and reducing income levels for purposes of eligibility, among others.
Currently, families with income levels up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level can enroll in Badgercare. Walker’s bill would potentially lower the ceiling to 133% leading to potentially more poor, sick people.
The bill also shifts cash from some programs to other programs experiencing shortfalls – $22 million redirected to the Department of Corrections to cover increased health care and overtime costs, $3 million moved from the Aging and Disabilities Resource Centers (which oversees the intake and assessment to the FamilyCare Program) to the Medicaid program, and shifting $37 million from the Temporary Aid to Needy Families fund to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit program.
While the budget repair bill has dominated television airways and newspaper headlines throughout the state, we haven’t scratched the surface of the impacts of said bill. The focus on this controversial bill has been the state employees rights and benefits, but there’s so much more.
What’s more, the controversy surrounding the bill is continuing to boom. According to published reports, Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Langley has said Walker’s state budget repair bill would be unconstitutional because it would violate the constitutional “home rule” that protects cities and villages from interference in local pensions by the state.
The saga is only beginning. For now we’ll continue to see the governor and the Republicans stand firm on their position and citizens – both those for and against the bill – passionately and peacefully camp out at the Capitol in protest, as we await the return of the Wisconsin 14, who despite threats from the governor and their Republican peers seem determined to fight for their constituents.