Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Revenue Amendment Authors Picking a Fight

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has an article today about the new provision restricting local government employee compensation that was just added to the revenue amendment. I suspect it's exactly the type of article the authors want.

The JS notes how quickly unions and other groups that represent local workers in Wisconsin denounced the addition of the compensation limit, although these groups have been denouncing the amendment as a whole since it was announced in February.

It seems likely that this late addition is at least slightly motivated by an attempt to change the debate about the revenue amendment. If the authors can successfully make this amendment about the need to stop unions from taking more money and benefits, rather the total effect it will have on the state as a whole, proponents will be in a much better position to argue their case.

Many conservatives have long held contempt for unions and the broader notion of collective bargaining--despite the fact that unions have throughout history fought for employee rights that are cherished by union and non-union workers alike in this country today: safe working conditions, fair wages, a 40-hour work week, etc.

Unions are often perceived by conservatives as selfish, greedy, and antithetical to the free market (side note: I just noticed the irony of this line). And this conservative perception has undoubtedly sunk into the general public perception of unions at least to a certain extent.

This makes a battle against unions a much easier one for proponents of the revenue amendment than a battle against all of the segments of Wisconsin society that have spoken out against the amendment (and there are quite a few).

As amendment co-author Rep. Jeff Wood (R-Chippewa Falls) noted about the addition of the compensation provision: "I'm expecting all hell to break loose."

Why would Wood want "all hell to break loose" on the eve of the first vote on his amendment? If this was truly a debate Wood was concerned about, why not release the provision earlier and subsequently leave more time to pacify the negative reaction?

A reasonable answer is that he wants the negative reaction because where it's coming from is an easy target for him. This allows proponents to shift the focus from the other groups that oppose the amendment--which range from the League of Women Voters to the Wisconsin Catholic Conference--and put it on a group that already is questionable in the eyes of many in the public.

Not to mention the compensation provision has the added effect of dividing the opposition by offering a carrot to groups that represent the management side of local government--groups that certainly wouldn't mind restricting the power of unions at the bargaining table. Although it definitely isn't enough to end all of the concerns these groups have about the amendment, it does give them something to be happy about while further angering the union opposition.

Adding the compensation provision is a crafty move by the amendment authors, but it is still too little, too late. Although the amendment will likely pass the Ways and Means Committee in the Assembly today, the mounting opposition from Republicans in the State Senate suggests it won't get far beyond that point.

Plus, while you can distract the public from the widespread opposition to the amendment, there's no way you can erase the overwhelming size and strength of the opposition.

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