In a surprise move late Wednesday, Senate Republicans voted to move forward with the governor’s controversial budget repair bill, sending the measure to a Senate-Assembly conference committee to craft a new version that both houses will vote on.
Republican leaders would only say the Senate bill differed from the Assembly bill and, after voting to take up a couple of Assembly amendments, indicated it was possible that lawmakers could strip fiscal elements from the proposal and pass only measures dealing with collective bargaining.
Such a move could allow Republicans to pass the governor’s bill without the 20 Senate members needed to vote on fiscal matters. Currently 14 Democratic senators remain in Illinois, hiding out in an effort to deny the quorum and stall the vote.
If the Republicans move forward with their plans, it would be a major reversal for Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. Both have contended that the bill is fiscal in nature and thus the collective bargaining could not be stripped from the measure.
Democratic Senators on Wednesday immediately criticized the move and said there was a possibility they would come back Wednesday night to fight the bill on the floor. The senators said the Republicans maneuver proves their goal has had more to do with ending collective bargaining for public employees and less to do with balancing the budget.
“They have been saying all along that this is a fiscal item; we’ve been saying it is not,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, from Illinois. “They have been lying. Their goal is to bust up the unions.”
Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, called the maneuver undemocratic and “almost barbaric.”
“There’s going to be a public hanging of public employee unions at the Capitol tomorrow if it comes out as I expect,” he said, referring to the provisions meant to strip most collective bargaining rights from public employee unions.
Groups that have been protesting the bill for more than three weeks began issuing urgent appeals Wednesday evening for supporters to come to the Capitol to oppose the move.