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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 31

Supreme Court is right on Gov. Scott Walker's Act 10

Act 10 survives, says the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The law that Gov. Scott Walker pushed through the Legislature in 2011 to cripple public employee unions was politically motivated and a huge overreach under the guise of filling a state budget shortfall, but all that said, this court got it right: There is no constitutional basis upon which to overturn the law.

After three years of non-stop litigation, it seems that the legality of Act 10 finally may have been decided. The political impact of the contentious law — and this decision — have just begun, given that Walker is engaged in a close campaign for re-election with Democratic challenger Mary Burke.

In a 5-2 decision written by Justice Michael Gableman, the court found that collective bargaining is not a fundamental right under the state constitution but rather a benefit that the Legislature can choose to restrict or extend. Act 10 all but ended collective bargaining for most public employees, rendering the once politically feared teachers union, for example, toothless.

"No matter the limitations or 'burdens' a legislative enactment places on the collective bargaining process, collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation. The First Amendment cannot be used as a vehicle to expand the parameters of a benefit that it does not itself protect," Gableman wrote.

Gableman was joined by Justices David Prosser, Patience Roggensack and Annette Ziegler. Justice N. Patrick Crooks concurred but wrote separately. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley dissented. The case came to the court after Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colás in September 2012 found major portions of the law unconstitutional. The Supreme Court, seemingly eager to rule, took the case last year, bypassing the state District 4 Court of Appeals.

Our view was captured in Crooks' dissent, in which he lamented the end of collective bargaining but found no reason to throw out the law on a constitutional basis. We agree with that reasoning.

Crooks wrote:

"As a justice of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, I join the majority of this Court in voting to uphold the constitutionality of Act 10. In answering the legal questions put to us as we must, we affirm a legislative act that appears to have gone further than needed.

"For many public workers, Act 10 effectively ended meaningful union representation carried out through statutory collective bargaining. This type of statutory collective bargaining has long been part of Wisconsin's progressive heritage. It is my firm belief that individuals should have the right to organize and bargain collectively regarding their wages and the terms of their employment. As thoughtful people from across the political spectrum and around the world have long recognized, collective bargaining benefits workers, employers and society itself. Although Act 10 does not violate either the United States Constitution or the Wisconsin Constitution, it erodes longstanding benefits both to public workers and to public employers."

After Walker's election, we agreed with the new governor that the state needed to get better control of its labor costs. It needed more flexibility, for example, in the design of benefit plans and union workers needed to fund a portion of those benefits. But Walker, and the Republicans who control both houses of the Legislature, did not have to do what they did to fill a deep budget hole. There were alternatives short of union-busting. Other states chose differently. That they chose union-busting here speaks to their political aims — and not their desire to craft fair, efficient policy. The unions were major backers of Democrats.

Now it appears if Act 10 is to be debated further, it will be in the same halls of the Legislature where it was hatched in the whirlwind that left the state to this day bitterly divided. We will reap the whirlwind for a long time to come. But if there is someday a will to do so, the worst of this law can still be fixed.


Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, July 27

Walker should accept Medicaid expansion

Wise politicians have a vision for the future, but they also must deal with the realities of the present.

For that reason, last week's news that 38,000 Wisconsinites who lost health insurance coverage when Gov. Scott Walker tightened eligibility limits earlier this year didn't sign up on the federal exchanges means some of those folks likely are going without coverage they previously had.

Coverage for nearly 63,000 people ended in April, and they had until June 1 to sign up for federally subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act. New state numbers show about 19,000 did just that, and nearly 6,000 others became Medicaid eligible. Even more could have found a job with health insurance or got insurance through a spouse's employer. Still, there are thousands more without coverage because they either failed to sign up or couldn't afford coverage even with the federal subsidies.

Democrats have pounced on Walker, a Republican, for refusing to accept an additional $119 million in available federal money for 2013-15 to cover the entire cost of expanding Medicaid coverage for adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. The plan has the federal share gradually declining after 2016 until it reaches 90 percent in 2020. The state would pick up the remaining cost.

Walker said he is concerned that the debt-ridden federal government will renege on its promised funding, leaving states in the lurch.

Fretting over something that may happen in the future while leaving people needlessly without insurance in the present doesn't make much sense. If Walker's concern comes to pass, the state could at that point adjust its eligibility levels. It's hard to believe that any court could conjure up a legal argument to force states to unilaterally fund a state/federal program without sufficient federal help.

You don't have to be a cynic to believe that politics played a major role in all of this. Walker, along with almost every other Republican, staunchly opposes the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which they believe is a massive government overreach. Of course, the framework of the ACA is a Republican idea, that is, getting more people to put skin in the game by requiring all who can afford it to buy health insurance.

Many Republicans argue that the matter could have been handled better without such a massive program. It has been speculated that Walker couldn't possibly have accepted the ACA Medicaid expansion without damaging his possible presidential aspirations among GOP faithful.

Walker has a point that the federal government's ongoing habit of throwing more money at problems than it collects in revenues can't continue, and that the Medicaid expansion is a glaring example.

However, many of those trying to get by without insurance are inevitably going to break bones, get seriously ill or develop other ailments that require professional care. Without insurance, they will show up at emergency rooms or doctor's offices, and that cost will get shifted to everyone else.

The ACA may not turn out to be the best solution to this problem, but neither is crossing your fingers that the poor won't get sick or hurt.

Walker can and should accept the Medicaid expansion.


Janesville Gazette, July 30

Ryan's plan on poverty worth a look

Two points are critical in putting Rep. Paul Ryan's new poverty plan into perspective.

One, Ryan says this is the start of a conversation, not a final proposal.

Two, the Janesville Republican emphasizes that the plan is not intended to reduce the money spent on helping the poor.

Those acknowledgements should be enough to get both sides of the political aisle at least talking about what can be done to help the less fortunate.

Whatever Ryan's motive, this is a different take for him on addressing poverty. In the past, the powerful congressman, who serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee, has consistently proposed changes in the support network that were designed to streamline programs and cut costs.

Partly because of that, many Democrats are skeptical of Ryan's sincerity. Ryan, for his part, is asking for a dialogue and an opportunity to work with progressives in an effort to find common ground on this historically troublesome and divisive issue.

Ryan unveiled the plan last week after more than a year of budget hearings and personal visits to urban communities around the country. As summarized by Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the plan embraces some ideas that Democrats support, such as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and reforming mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines to reduce the prison population.

It also includes approaches backed by Republicans, such as block grants to states that would allow them to experiment with funding and programs and tailor initiatives to their specific needs.

In particular, the changes to the Earned Income Credit should garner broad support.

The proposal would expand the credit beyond families with children to more childless workers. Ryan also would lower the eligibility age from 25 to 21. The idea is to remove disincentives to work and to draw more young people into the workforce.

Ryan also proposes a review of sentencing guidelines with the intent of reducing incarceration among low-risk and nonviolent offenders. As the Journal Sentinel's Gilbert explained, the plan would give federal judges more flexibility in sentencing drug offenders, expanding rehabilitation programs and allowing some prisoners who participate in those programs to cut time off their sentences.

The congressman will have a harder time selling his block grant plan, which many Democrats will question and oppose out of the belief that many states can't be trusted to make good decisions about helping their poor and will find ways to cut spending on programs. The key, though, is that these would be experiments that would be monitored, revised and even scrapped if they don't prove effective.

Is all of this about Ryan rebranding himself on the issue in preparation for a presidential run in 2016. That could be part of it, but we take him at his word that he genuinely wants to address poverty in America in a fair and long-term manner.

We hope others who don't see eye to eye with Ryan on many other issues at least give this proposal the consideration it deserves.

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