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Policy group says impact of collective bargaining law and state aid cuts is unclear

For many, Gov. Scott Walker's expected recall election will be a referendum on his repeal of collective bargaining rights for most public workers.

But according to Milwaukee's Public Policy Forum, voters have no idea what the real impact has been on local governments and public schools. Walker, a Republican, and his legislative majorities approved a state budget last year that cut almost a billion dollars in state aid.

He said the municipalities, county governments and schools could make up for the cuts by scaling back what the unions gained from their bargaining power - and by making all public employees pay more for their pensions and health insurance.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie has repeatedly said the budget changes avoided thousands of public worker layoffs, protected taxpayers and helped balance budgets.

Kathleen Falk, a Democratic candidate for governor in the coming recall election, says schools and communities have been thrown into crisis. Falk supports restoring collective bargaining by public employee uninons.

The Public Policy Forum says it's impossible to tell whether the net effects have been good or bad at this point. There is no complete statewide data about the total impact on schools and local governments.

Last fall, administrators said schools cut almost 3,400 positions through layoffs and retirements. Walker's office said most were in schools which extended their union contracts just before the bargaining law took effect.

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities said the union law and extra employee contributions would only cover 70 percent of the state aid cuts in 36 large cities. The league said the estimate was made a year ago, and it did not cover many smaller places.

Democrats file a complaint against David Koch

Wisconsin Democrats have filed a complaint against billionaire businessman David Koch, saying he's using his tax-exempt status to help Gov. Scott Walker win his expected recall election.

The state Democratic Party has asked the IRS and the state Government Accountability Board to punish Koch on the basis of his recent remarks to the Palm Beach Post in Florida. Koch said he and his brother Charles were helping Walker "as we should ... We've spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We're going to spend more."

Democrats said the remarks were proof that Koch was using tax-deductible funds to help a political candidate.

But two officials of Koch Industries said David Koch was not speaking for the company, his brother or the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, of which he's a board member. They said Koch was only referring to what the Prosperity group is doing and his opinions of what's happening in Wisconsin.

Missy Cohlmia of Koch Industries said David Koch was not planning to campaign for Walker, or to speak directly on his behalf.

Americans for Prosperity is currently running statewide ads supporting Walker's budget reforms, but they don't mention the governor directly by name.

Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden said the Koch brothers have been an issue in Wisconsin for a year. That was when a prankster posed as David Koch in a phone call to Walker in which the governor let his guard down and made off-the-cuff remarks about the massive Capitol protests over the union law.

Holden said the issue has been "more heat than light" and a "false storyline."