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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

 10:21 PM 

Barrett, Falk knock each other's plans to restore collective bargaining

Kathleen Falk and Tom Barrett Wednesday criticized each other's plans to restore collective bargaining powers for public employees as unworkable.

Appearing at a forum sponsored by the Dane County Dem Party, Barrett reiterated his pledge to call a special session on collective bargaining if elected governor and said that holding up the budget to restore bargaining rights would be a mistake. The Milwaukee mayor said such a move would only allow a perpetual "Scott Walker budget" when the Legislature fails to pass a state budget on time.

"What we'd be doing is going to those Republicans and saying if you got everything you want in that budget, if you don't give me everything we want, we're going to make you keep everything you want," Barrett said to laughter. "Who are they going to blame? They're going to blame the governor for that. We can't play into their hands."

Barrett said that while Assembly members seem reluctant to agree to a bill that restores bargaining, after senators and the governor are recalled "they're not going to be as brave."

Falk vehemently disagreed with Barrett, saying relying on Assembly Republicans to change their minds and vote for a separate bill is the way "it can't happen."

"It's really important that we have the budget bill to restore collective bargaining and that we have a governor that's willing to have the courage to make that happen," said Falk, who's garnered a series of union endorsements.

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, said that she's already written a bill that would restore those rights and said that if she's elected, she'll "lift up the voices of people working in state government" but acknowledged that it’s a "very sticky question.”

Secretary of State Doug La Follette acknowledged the difficulty as well, saying they may not be able to restore collective bargaining unless they can turn over the Assembly and Senate to "progressive Republicans and Democrats."

Education was the other major theme of the night, with all the candidates highlighting its importance to job creation in the state. Falk made a pledge to restore funding for higher education and K-12 funding, while Vinehout said she'd implement a five-year phase in of State Superintendent Tony Evers’ plan to rework the state formula for K-12 funding. Barrett did not specify his plans, but noted that his wife Kris was laid off from her job as a teacher last year, making the issue a personal one for him.

"What struck me is this is the first time in my 21 years of marriage to my wife where I saw her shaken up by more than anything," Barrett said. "And she was shaken up because she felt violated. She felt this was an attack on her vocation."

The candidates were also asked about ways to encourage renewable energy, reducing prison spending and whether they would repeal Act 21, which gave the governor more power over the creation of administrative rules. All the candidates said they would work to repeal that law.

The county party conducted a straw poll of registered members before and during the debate. Falk won it with 118 votes to Barrett's 93. Vinehout garnered 46 votes while La Follette had two.

-- By Jason Smathers

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