Whether you agree or disagree with Friday's court ruling overturning most of the provisions of Wisconsin's Act 10 budget repair bill, you'd probably not argue that it comes at a fairly inopportune time for local government.
Mayor Kathy Ehley and City Administrator Jim Archamambo and their administrative advisors have worked all summer on their 2013 executive budget, and hearings on that revenue and spending plan began just last week.
Whether or how the decision handed down by Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas could affect that budget remains unknown and, for the time being, perhaps unknowable.
The budget is in large part based on city employee compensation, which accounts for approximately three-quarters of city spending. And although the city's unions had agreed in March 2011 to compensation concessions about equal to the provisions of Act 10, those contracts were never signed when then-Mayor Jill Didier vetoed ratification.
Whether the unions would agree to the same concessions now, if negotiations had to be reopened, is a matter of speculation.
Archambo, who as administrator is the chief architect of the city budget, was out of City Hall on scheduled business Monday and could not be reached. Other than a brief conversation between him and his principal legal advisor on employee relations, Assistant City Attorney Beth Aldana, no discussions have yet been held on the sudden reinstatement of collective bargaining.
Aldana said Monday afternoon that she expected that she and Archambo would meet Tuesday morning to talk about the implications, but little was likely to be clear so soon.
"There will probably be a pause," Aldana said, "to see if there is a stay of the ruling. I don't think we're likely to do anything until we see whether that happens, which could be fairly soon."
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has vowed to file a motion in Colas' court to stay his decision, and the outcome of that could come in days or weeks.
Whether there is a stay or not, Gov. Scott Walker's administration has also vowed to appeal – but that would take longer, and in the interim, Colas' ruling in effect voids the main stipulations of Act 10.
Wauwatosa Finance Director John Ruggini, responsible for the number-crunching and projections in the city budget, said he was wondering, too, what the controversial ruling's effects might be.
"There was talk right away among commentators that this was a return to the status quo," Ruggini said. "But there is no status quo. Those contracts expired two years ago. A lot has changed since then. You can't just 'go back.' It isn't that simple."
On top of budget concerns, the city has invested considerable time in reworking employee policies in the absence of collective bargaining.
Two weeks ago, administrators presented the draft of a new employee handbook, long in the making, intended to replace many of the workplace rules and policies formerly contained in bargaining agreements.
Soon to come were two more handbooks, on compensation and benfits, which have also consumed staff time for a year since Act 10 went into effect after a first court finding against it was overruled by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The city is in the uncomfortable position of having, by law, to pass a 2013 budget this fall – which it can do, based on current conditions – but possibly having to revisit it later.