Ending an epic and polarizing political battle in Wisconsin, the states highest court affirmed Tuesday that Republican Gov. Scott Walkers union rights law shall take effect, handing the states GOP a major and long-awaited political victory.
The law eliminates many public employee collective bargaining rights and raises the contribution amounts to health and pension plans to private-sector levels. The bill became a key part of Gov. Walkers plan to gain control of state finances without raising taxes.
For weeks in February and March, public employees, unions and liberal activists filled the Wisconsin state capitol to protest the bill. The states Democratic senators even fled to neighboring Illinois in hopes of preventing a quorum, and therefore a vote. But, as reported first on FOX Business on March 9, legislative Republicans opted to use a parliamentary maneuver in a bicameral conference committee to move the bills most contentious, non-fiscal measures to a floor vote, and subsequently passage, forcing the absent Democrats to return to Madison.
Democrats called circumstances surrounding the move illegal and took their claims to the courts. But the states Supreme Court ultimately sided with Republicans in a 4-to-3 decision.
With this ruling, the so-called budget-repair bill, which became a national rallying cry for outraged unionists and passionate Tea Party activists alike, now becomes fully-enacted law.
The Supreme Courts ruling provides our state the opportunity to move forward together and focus on getting Wisconsin working again, Gov. Walker said in a statement, emphasizing the word opportunity.
Had the court sided with the Democrats, however, the Republicans could have simply passed the bill again. Democrats claimed the bill did not receive sufficient public venting under the states Open Meetings law, not that certain provisions were illegal in themselves. Republicans, who control both houses of the legislature, had the votes to pass the measures again.
Still, the GOP hoped and remained confident the Supreme Court would side with them to show Wisconsinites they won the battle fairly and legally.
Weve been saying since day one that Republicans passed the budget repair bill correctly, said Republican Assembly leader Jeff Fitzgerald in a statement, so frankly this isn't much of a surprise.
We followed the law when the bill was passed, simple as that, he added.
High court ruling or not, the minority remains unconvinced.
The majority of the Supreme Court is essentially saying that the legislature is above the law, said Rep. Peter Barca, the Assemblys Democratic leader. Its now clear that unless the constitution is amended the legislature is free to ignore any laws on the books."
For months, television images from Wisconsin showed protesters amassed on capitol grounds. Celebrities, including filmmaker Michael Moore and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, spoke at rallies, often leading 1960s-era chants. The pitched battle also inspired similar fights elsewhere in the country, such as in Indiana and New Jersey.
But as temperatures have changed from sub-zero to summer-like, there is evidence Gov. Walker's attempts at reform have indeed gained approval in the Badger State.
A yearly survey by the states largest business lobbying group, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce [WMC], reported last week nearly 9 in 10 business leaders are now happy with the states direction. This compares to only 1 in 10 just a year ago.
According to the survey, corporate executives cited as positive the states recent tax, regulatory and litigation reform, not just the fights over spending.
Clearly, the business community is impressed with the renewed commitment to tax relief, litigation relief, regulatory reform and spending restraints, said WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer. And now it shows in the survey results.
More than half of respondents also expect to add jobs in upcoming months.
Republicans are now focusing attention on getting the governors broader state budget passed, but not without some rejoicing in the corridors of the ornate and historic capitol building.
One aide described the mood as excited to FOX Business.
But party leaders, publicly at least, are taking the victory in stride.
We're finally headed in the right direction by balancing the budget and focusing on jobs, just like Republicans promised we would do, Fitzgerald said.