Wisconsin business interests are publicly lobbying for state lawmakers to pass so-called right-to-work legislation, despite Gov. Scott Walker repeatedly stating that restricting collective bargaining rights would distract from his own legislative agenda.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce President and CEO Kurt Bauer authored a column on the organization’s website outlining several union-crushing policies that he argued would continue to transform the state from “anti-business” to “pro-business” and “achieve its full economic potential.”
The first of the ultra-conservative policies Bauer endorsed was right-to-work laws that severely curtail collective bargaining rights for workers and private sector unions. Bauer argued that Wisconsin should join the 24 other states that have right-to-work laws—an economic policy pushed for decades by right-wing think tanks.
Workers in right-to-work states have consistently earned lower wages and enjoyed fewer benefits than counterparts in states that have not undermined labor unions, according to the Economic Policy Institute. People in states that have curbed collective bargaining rights are less likely to have job-based health insurance and make about $1,500 less per year.
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Among other policies that Bauer endorsed were aligning the Wisconsin and federal versions of the Family Medical Leave Act, deregulating hydraulic fracturing sand mining, and continued investment in worker training programs.
Bauer also proposed tax reforms: eliminating the highest personal income tax bracket, raising the gas tax, and increasing the vehicle registration fee. The latter measures would disproportionately impact low-income Wisconsinites.
The policy proposals come as state lawmakers are preparing for the legislative session that begins in January.
Wisconsin is facing a $2 billion budget shortfall, caused by the combination of slow economic growth and the implementation of Walker’s massive tax cuts. The Wisconsin legislature’s nonpartisan budget office estimated in September a two-year shortfall of $1.8 billion, which is a $1.1 billion increase over the $642 million shortfall estimated in May.
The Walker administration is projecting a $2.2 billion shortfall for the state’s 2015-2017 budget cycle.
The Department of Transportation Budget Taxes has already submitted a budget proposal that would increase fees for drivers by $751 million over the next two years. The proposal includes a gas tax hike of 5 cents a gallon and 10 cents a gallon for diesel fuel, imposing fees that would cost several hundred dollars on new vehicle purchases, and a $50 tax on owners of hybrid cars.
Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said last week that legislation to restrict collective bargaining rights should be a legislative priority. “It’s my opinion it has to come up early [in the legislative session]. I don’t know how we get through the session without having this debate,” Fitzgerald said during a press conference, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.
While Walker has said legislation restricting collective bargaining rights in the upcoming legislative session would be a distraction, he has not said that he would veto any bills that impose harsh restrictions on workers’ rights.