“These are difficult times,” said Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson. “The state budget is not different than a family budget; you can’t spend more than what you make.”
Melvin authored a resolution that would have Arizona formally support Wisconsin legislation that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employee unions and limit pension and health care benefits for most public workers.
Fifty-nine other Republican senators and representatives have signed on to the resolution.
The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee endorsed SCR 1059 by a 5-2 vote Wednesday, sending it to the floor by way of the Rules Committee. The committee’s only Democrats, Olivia Cajero Bedford of Tucson and Robert Meza of Phoenix, dissented.
As a concurrent resolution, the measure would require approval from both houses but doesn’t need the governor’s signature.
Its language expresses support for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is a Republican, and members of that state’s Legislature “who are willing to propose and consider tough but practical legislation that addresses the state’s financial challenges.”
The battle in Wisconsin captured national attention as Democratic lawmakers fled the state to keep the legislation from getting a vote on the Senate floor and thousands of union members rallied at the State Capitol in Madison.
Melvin said Walker and Wisconsin lawmakers pressing for the change are demonstrating fiscal responsibility and providing a model as Arizona addresses challenges such as pension obligations for public employees.
“If we spend more now for programs that we can’t afford, we’re going to be accused of generational theft because we would be stealing from future generations,” he said.
But Meza said the resolution would hurt Arizona’s image.
“What this legislation does is divide people … and I think Arizona looks bad for supporting that,” he said.
On Tuesday, members of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, a union representing workers around the state, rallied outside the Arizona State Capitol in support of Wisconsin’s public employees.
Rebekah Friend, executive director of the group’s Arizona chapter, said it’s disconcerting to see lawmakers here supporting what she considers an attack on labor unions.
“This isn’t about the budget in Wisconsin,” she said. “I think the governor of Wisconsin has made it very clear that his intent is to break up the unions there.”
Greg Hynes, the Arizona legislative director for United Transportation Union, which represents active and retired railroad, bus and mass transit workers, said he opposes limiting collective bargaining between employers and unions.
“It is essential to the democratic system,” he said, “Workers should always have a voice, and to take that away is not American.”
But Melvin said that while he supports protecting the rights of workers, union workers shouldn’t get favorable treatment.
“We are all Americans, but one should not be compensated better than another,” he said.