One More Shot at Mining Modernization Bill?

By Brett Healy
A MacIver Institute Perspective

The Capitol is abuzz today with rumors that the feared-dead mining permit modernization bill may still have a pulse.  The Senate Judiciary committee suddenly scheduled AB426 as a topic for a public hearing on Monday. Although no new public testimony will be taken at that time, it raises the question: If the last day of Session is this Thursday, why schedule this bill for a Monday hearing?

If the Democrat Party has a big tent, private sector unions have long held a prominent position in it.  However, lately they’ve taken a back seat to their public sector union brothers and sisters and now it appears they are getting pushed aside for another special interest, environmental activists.

Labor unions are beginning to get vocal about politicians who pick environmental special interests over creating jobs.  President Obama’s recent decision to block the Keystone Pipeline highlights this concern.

“Recently as a great many of our members were ready to back their bags in anticipation of Wisconsin employers playing a major role in the Keystone XL Pipeline project, our members got another bucket of cold water dumped on their heads, reportedly because of environmental concerns.  So we sit on the bench and we wait for something to happen,” Terry McGowan, President of Operating Engineers Local 139, told a crowd of private sector union members in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol on March 6.

The unions had gathered in Madison because of another environmental issue that was threatening another major jobs project.  A mining company wants to open an iron mine in northern Wisconsin that could create over 2,800 jobs, many of which would be union jobs.  However, the current state law makes it impossible to open a new mine, so Republicans proposed a bill to change that.

Democrats oppose that bill, claiming they had environmental concerns over the proposed mine.  It could be a coincidence that the State Democrat Party is trying recall Governor Walker, claiming he has done nothing to create new jobs.

Big labor finally got sick of this political maneuvering.  Once it got assurances from the mining company it would use union labor, the unions got behind the Republican bill.

“Does it feel like people are holding jobs over our heads for political posturing?  I absolutely feel that way,” McGowan told the MacIver News Service. “I feel that both parties do it, but right now, this is a very good example of it.”

Big labor might not be ready to completely abandon the Democrat Party and begin endorsing Republicans.  However, this ad hoc alliance over the mining bill in Wisconsin shows Democrats cannot appease all its special interest groups at the same time.  Also, labor will throw their hat in with whoever is trying to create jobs at the moment.

“This should not be an issue of Democrats versus Republicans.  This should be an issue of putting the people that voted them into office back to work,” McGowan told the rally crowd.

Going back to 2009 when President Obama proposed the stimulus package, many saw it as a payoff for the unions.  There was little doubt the vast multitude of promised “shovel-ready jobs” would go to union contractors.  However, very few of those jobs ever materialized, as the stimulus funds went mostly into the pockets of government unions and green energy companies.

“Over the past few years the construction trades have watched politicians dangle large infrastructure projects in front of us like a carrot only to see whose side we would take as a form of one-upmanship,” McGowan complained.

Another union leader expressed gratitude for the few projects that were created.  However, he acknowledged government projects will not rebuild the economy, and private sector unions will only get what they want, when private companies are in a position to make money.

“I’ll be the first to admit without the level of public investment in vital infrastructure and other public projects over the last few years, things would have been much worse.  But our industry knows things are beginning to turn around when private investment and private development in private projects start to come on line,” John Schmitt, President of the Wisconsin Laborers District Council, told the crowd.

Now, consider this. Just last week, as unions began their statewide push to “Reclaim Wisconsin,” one of their media events was hijacked by one of their own.

As CBS58 in Milwaukee reported:

Lyle Balistreri wasn’t scheduled to speak during Wednesday night’s “Reclaim Wisconsin” rally at Serb Hall, but took the stage anyway to lash out against what he called the “ugly partisan politics” that led to the rejection of a mining permit bill.

He singled out the 16 senate democrats who voted no including Milwaukee State Senator Spencer Coggs who was also in attendance.

Balistreri represents more than 15-thousand construction trades workers in southeast Wisconsin, men and women who would have benefited from the mining reform bill.

“For the Senate Democrats to vote against this bill is a sign that they’re not with us. They’re certainly not job creators, and in fact they’re job killers. And I’m sick and tired of the partisan politics in the State of Wisconsin. The working people in the state of are taking a beating. Democrats and Republicans are at each other’s throats, and this sort of thing has to stop,” said Balistreri.

Perhaps comments like those from Balisteri and McGowan have helped breathe new life into the mining bill?

Stay tuned.