Star Tribune Editorial

If there was any question that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attack on public-employee unions was more political than economic, this week's action laid those doubts to rest.

On Wednesday and Thursday, his administration and legislative allies pushed through a misguided bill that would strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers.

Though Walker has always called his proposal a "budget-repair'' bill, it is clear that the motivation behind it is more about union-busting than budget-balancing.

President Obama has properly called Walker's move "an assault on unions."

In his wrongheaded proposal, introduced three weeks ago, Walker went too far.

While this editorial board could have backed his call for financial concessions from teachers and other workers, the attack on bargaining itself is extreme, given that the unions had all but agreed to givebacks on salary and benefits to help address the state's $3.6 billion deficit.

Walker ran last fall as an ardent conservative, but he never told voters he intended to roll back rights Wisconsin public servants have had for many decades.

The bad proposal is now poised to become bad law with Thursday's approval in the Assembly.

It would prohibit most government workers from collectively bargaining, except for wage increases, and then only up to the rate of inflation. Unions would no longer be able to collect dues through payroll deductions, which could strike a blow to their finances.

Police and firefighters, also public employees, would be exempt.

The bill passed even as 14 Democratic state senators continued their boycott across the state line in Illinois. The lawmakers fled there to deny the Senate a quorum and prevent its voting on Walker's plan.

But the Republicans passed the measure without a quorum by taking all funding items out of the bill. Only a majority vote of those present is needed for nonbudgetary bills.

The Senate's action ended a stalemate that might have gone on for weeks. Both sides are guilty of exploiting procedural technicalities.

The Democrats were wrong to leave the state, and the Republicans shouldn't have pushed through this measure without the presence of colleagues from the other side of the aisle.

Walker's assault on unions could backfire. Unions and other groups of working people mobilized to sit and sleep in at Wisconsin's capitol during much of the last three weeks.

As the Senate vote approached on Wednesday, they stormed the building, some climbing through windows, in protest. To avoid violence, law enforcers -- also public employees -- largely stepped aside.

Continuing teacher demonstrations and the outpouring of support they have received from around the country are testimony to the national nerve the Wisconsin showdown has struck.

When the most egregious provisions of the bill become law, those protesters will galvanize, grow stronger and make their voices heard through the ballot box.

Walker and Co.'s draconian plan may have prevailed in this round, but voters in 2012 will have the last word.

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