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It's a matter of working together. That's what Lacrosse County Administrator Steve O' Malley says is the main reason the county board approved a union wage and benefits agreement this week.
The contract is for a one year wage freeze, no increase in health and dental insurance for the county or employees, and all remaining conditions to stay the same through the end of 2011. Also, union and non-union employees agreed to take voluntary unpaid time off, which he says will save the county about $270 thousand. O’Malley says the county has been working with union leaders to come to a wage and benefits agreement for about five months. He says that this is the first time the unions and county agreed to a one-year contract. Usually it’s for two years
O’Malley says the county won’t be able to determine what else needs to be worked out with the unions until Governor Walker unveils his budget.
Many local leaders don't support Scott Walker. Mayors, school board members, county board supervisors, and even town clerks from all over the state have signed a letter condemning proposed changes to collective bargaining in governor Walker's budget repair bill. La Crosse mayor Matt Harter says he's more inclined to see how the whole budget repair bill turns out before passing judgment. Harter says he'd like to see some agreement on the legislation but, he says, "we gotta change something."
Medicaid programs in Wisconsin face huge potential changes if governor Walker's proposed budget repair bill gets signed into law. The extent of those changes are hard to gauge accurately right now, says Bob Jacobson from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, but over a million people could be affected by changes to Badger Care and similar programs. And unilateral changes made under the bill and not approved by the feds would likely result in tens of thousands adults and children losing their state health coverage altogether.
Jacobson's group believes some of the changes that Walker wants to work in the state's Medicaid system are, at the least, a blatant power grab by the governor. At the most, a violation of the state's constitution.
The week-long hiatus of the state senate democrats from Wisconsin continues. And UW La Crosse political scientist Joe Heim says absconding from their jobs wasn't a completely useless thing to do in the face of legislation they couldn't prevent from passing.
Heim says democrats wanted to get some compromises from governor Walker on his controversial budget repair bill. When those compromises weren't forthcoming, their last move to stall the bill was to just leave the state.
A hundred tickets for homeowners could have been written by now in La Crosse. It's been at least a hundred homes this winter that have had their snow-covered walks cleared by the city's contractor. And those property owners are already facing bills for the clearing: $2.50 per foot, plus a fifty dollar administration fee. But, so far, the city has yet to write a single ticket for a messy walk. The city engineer's office tells us, although it's not official policy, with sidewalk tickets they're generally adhering to the "three strikes and you're out" philosophy.