Janesville53.2°

Walker expected to sign ‘budget flexibility’ bill

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
November 7, 2011
— A bill has passed both houses of the state Legislature that would allow municipal governments and union employees to reopen and renegotiate contracts.

Rep. Evan Wynn’s “budget flexibility” bill passed late last week along party lines in the Assembly and by voice vote in the Senate.


The bill was sent to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk, and Wynn said he anticipated it could be signed his week.


Wynn, a Whitewater Republican who represents the 43rd Assembly District, introduced the bill in September. He says it would make it easier for municipal employee unions and school unions to reopen their contracts without being penalized by Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, the law that stripped state employee unions of most of their collective bargaining rights.


Wynn had hoped to get the bill to the governor’s desk by November, in time for local governments to use it as a tool in fall budget planning.


It’s intended to allow local municipal unions to renegotiate with employers some parts of their contracts to give concessions in benefits or other contract items.


“This bill will help municipalities in Rock and Walworth counties and all over Wisconsin balance their budgets without layoffs or devastating cuts,” Wynn said.


Wynn has said he worked on the bill after Milton City Administrator Jerry Schuetz approached him about city budget issues.


He says other municipalities are interested in the bill, as well.


In an interview, Schuetz said the bill would allow the city of Milton to save $70,000 through a proposed employee health insurance change from a state insurance plan to a Mercy Health System plan.


Union-represented employees for the city’s police and public works departments settled their contracts in January 2011, before the governor’s budget repair bill became law.


Schuetz said some city employees already changed to the Mercy plan this month, and the police union has agreed to reopen its contract to make the change.


He said some union-represented public works employees had considered the change, but they’re hesitant to reopen their contract over fears that they’d be penalized under Act 10.


“There seems to be a general willingness there. They just did not want to see their contract nullified,” Schuetz said.


Schuetz said the city has spent about $334,000 annually on state health insurance, which had covered about 23 union and nonunion employees. In the face of a projected $190,000 budget gap, Schuetz said city staff was trying to find a way to save money.


As the city readies its 2012 budget, Schuetz indicated an employee insurance change would temper a likely tax levy increase and will allow the city to avoid possible layoffs and employee furloughs.


Pending the governor signing the bill, Schuetz said he’d push for contract talks this week with the department of public works and other employees.


Wynn’s bill has the same provisions as a state budget amendment introduced earlier this year by Rep. Joe Knilans, R-Janesville.


The amendment allowed public school districts and unions to reopen contracts to modify compensation and fringe benefits, but it expired Sept. 30.


Wynn’s bill would effectively renew the amendment, but it would apply to all municipal employers including counties, cities, sewer and water districts and school districts.


Janesville City Manager Eric Levitt could not be reached for comment on whether Wynn’s bill could help planning for his city’s budget.



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