Sen. Dan Kapanke says it was a difficult decision to support Gov. Walker’s anti-union budget repair bill, but that he believes it’s necessary to empower local units of government to deal with coming cuts.
Speaking from the Capitol, the La Crosse Republican said he respects the thousands of people protesting outside his window and commended public unions for agreeing to monetary concessions. And he’s been overwhelmed by more than 23,000 e-mails as well as a steady stream of calls to his office, home and cell phones.
“When you’re passing a piece of legislation that affects so many people, you don’t do it lightly. There’s a lot of soul-searching and praying,” Kapanke said Tuesday. “I’ve been supportive of pieces of legislation that could be viewed as pro-union. I have great respect for public employees.”
But, he said, Walker’s plan is necessary to address an immediate $137 million budget shortfall and a $3.6 billion deficit projected for the next two-year budget cycle.
Kapanke said he’s not privy to the details of the budget Walker is expected to release next week, but the budget repair bill, which strips most state, municipal and school employees of their right to collective bargaining, will give school boards and county governments the flexibility to balance budgets with less state aid.
“What we’re doing with this legislation is empowering local units of government to make changes to adapt to the new budget that’s coming down that will probably provide them with less dollars than they’re accustomed to.”
Kapanke, who served 14 years on the town of Campbell board before he was elected to the Senate, said he knows many of those who serve on local boards to be fair people who would not take advantage of their employees.
“I just can’t believe these people are going to be mistreated,” he said. “I would urge them to have faith in that process.”
Kapanke emphasized the introduction of an amendment that requires civil service protections and grievance procedures for municipal employees.
Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, said those provisions would offer protection from wrongful firing but little else.
“It doesn’t help you if you have a supervisor who wants to deny you a bathroom break or a lunch break,” the former Onalaska police officer said. “It’s completely inadequate.”
Kapanke said though it’s not “his call,” he thinks it makes sense to include public safety workers in the ban on collective bargaining.
Walker’s bill prohibits state and municipal workers from collective bargaining except on wages capped by inflation. Fire, police and state patrol unions, however, would still be allowed to negotiate contracts.
“That issue is going to be raised,” Kapanke said. “We’ll see if there’s enough will to include them.”