Wisconsin Gov. Walker ignores employees' concession offerWisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s response to public employees’ offer to help balance the budget “simply shows that he is out to bust the unions,” said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.
By: Brandon Stahl and Georgia Swing, Duluth News Tribune
MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker ignored an offer of financial concessions by state and local public employees Saturday, calling once again for Democratic senators to stop “shirking their responsibilities” and return from Illinois to vote on his budget repair bill.
Workers would accept the financial concessions pushed by the governor in exchange for retaining their basic organizing rights, Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said in a statement.
“I have been informed that all state and local public employees — including teachers — have agreed to the financial aspects of Governor Walker’s request,” Erpenbach said. “This includes Walker’s requested concessions on public employee health care and pension. In return they ask only that the provisions that deny their right to collectively bargain are removed. This will solve the budget challenge.”
Erpenbach is one of 14 Democratic senators who fled the state to Illinois to deny the Senate a quorum needed to vote on Walker's bill.
In his response, issued through spokesman Cullen Werwie, Walker said: “Senator Erpenbach, Senator Miller, and his fellow Democrats should come back to Wisconsin to do their jobs. … The quickest way to resolve the current situation is for the Democratic senators to stop shirking their responsibilities and debate the bill in Madison.”
Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald held a news conference Saturday and said his side has the votes and doesn't need to compromise on Walker’s legislation.
Walker’s response to public employees’ offer to help balance the budget “simply shows that he is out to bust the unions,” said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.
Jauch said security concerns at the Capitol would prevent any attempt at a vote on Saturday and, in any case, he and his 13 colleagues in northern Illinois plan to stay there at least a day or two longer.
Outside the Capitol, “Trim the fat” signs faced off against “Trim the tea” placards Saturday as Walker supporters appeared to swell the crowd of demonstrators above Friday’s number, which was estimated at 40,000.
The scene was chaotic as vociferous protesters stated their positions, and sometimes yelled at each other, but no skirmishes or problems were reported by mid-afternoon.
“Do your jobs,” some tea party protesters chanted at pro-union ralliers.
“Kill the bill,” they chanted back. “Hey hey, ho ho, Scott Walker has got to go.”
“It’s been crazier than ever,” said Rep. Nick Milroy, D-Superior. “But it’s been very peaceful.”
The tea party rally that began at noon has seen speakers such as well-known conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart and Joe the Plumber.
Walker’s bill would eliminate state and local public employees’ collective bargaining rights except for salaries, and increases greater than the rate of inflation would require a voter referendum. Contracts could be for no more than a year, and bargaining units would have to vote annually on maintaining union certification. Public workers would pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health-care coverage.
In the face of a $3.6 billion state budget shortfall, savings from the bill are projected to be $300 million over the next two years.
The bill would prevent widespread layoffs, Republicans have said.
The bill appeared to be on a fast track to passage early this week, with the support of Republican majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate.
The flight of the Democratic senators from the state has forced a needed slowdown in the process, Jauch said.
“I believe we are letting democracy work,” he said. “There are tens of thousands of people who are coming to Madison, many for the first time, because they feel so compelled to have their voices heard.”
This week’s public discussions would not have occurred if the Democratic senators had remained in Madison for a vote on the Walker bill, Jauch said.
Even some Republicans are glad the Democrats put a halt to the process, he said.
“There are, I’d say, about seven or eight Republicans who don’t want to vote on this bill in this form. He (Walker) is putting so much pressure on them. I’ve talked to Republican colleagues. They’ve said, ‘Stay out of the state for the rest of the year.’ ”
The willingness of public employees to accept financial concessions shows that “we don’t have to pit one person against another to solve this economic crisis,” Jauch said.
“Every employee group, public or private, recognizes the need to make sacrifices,” he said, “and they don’t need a gun to their heads to make sacrifices.”