Public hearing and protests take place over state budgetWisconsin News
-- Public union employees and their supporters held noon hour rally at the State Capitol. That’s where the Legislature’s finance panel was hearing testimony today on Governor Scott Walker’s plan to slash public union benefits and bargaining power.
MADISON - Public union employees and their supporters held noon hour rally at the State Capitol. That’s where the Legislature’s finance panel was hearing testimony today on Governor Scott Walker’s plan to slash public union benefits and bargaining power.
Security was tight inside the Capitol, and large TV screens were set up in the Rotunda so the over-flow crowd that was expected could watch the hearing. Gov. Walker says the union cutbacks are needed to reduce labor costs, prevent layoffs, and let local governments and schools make do with less. But Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett – who lost to Walker last fall – said the measure would pit thousands of police and fire-fighters against other unionized city workers. And Barrett said Milwaukee would miss out on $19-million in savings because the local emergency workers would be exempt from the cutbacks. Barrett said his city could have saved $14-million in pension costs and almost five-million in health care expenses, if police-and-fire personnel were to make the same sacrifices as teachers and other public workers.
But Walker previously said the state couldn’t afford to let emergency service employees walk out in protest – like he expects other public workers to do, even though they have promised not to. Jim Palmer, head of the state’s Professional Police Association, said his group was grateful to be exempt, but it still opposes the measure. Palmer said his members cannot quote, “sit idly by and watch the collective bargaining rights of our other fellow public workers be stripped away.”
Present and former Green Bay Packers are among those urging the Legislature to reject Governor Scott Walker’s proposed union cutbacks. Current linebacker Brady Poppinga and offensive lineman Jason Spitz joined 1990’s Super Bowl kicker Chris Jacke and ex-Packers Bob Long, Charles Jordan, Curtis Fuller, and Steve Okoniewski in signing a letter. The players said they know teamwork on-and-off the field is what makes the Packers and Wisconsin great – and it’s the same dedication of public workers which makes the state run. They called the right to negotiate wages and benefits, most of which Walker would take away, a quote, “fundamental underpinning of our middle class.” And they said the current setup has worked for Wisconsin since the 1930’s. The Packers letter supported the AFL-CIO’s attempt to kill Walker’s measure. The NFL players’ union was also expected to weigh in on the matter.
In response to his budget repair bill, about 1,000 University of Wisconsin students, faculty and staff fill the state capitol building shouting, “Spread the love, stop the hate; don’t let Walker legislate.” The crowd delivers thousands of valentines to Governor Scott Walker asking him “not to break their hearts” with budget cuts. Walker wants to get rid of most public employee collective bargaining rights in order to help fix the budget hole. Graduate assistant Peter Rickman, a 28-year-old from Neenah, says he’s concerned about the future of the entire state. “This is an attack on the entire UW community.” Walker is not proposing any furlough days. The governor says the state is broke; it has nothing to offer in a negotiation. Rickman doesn’t buy that. “This bill is not about the budget. This bill is about gutting collective bargaining rights.”
State Senate President Mike Ellis said today his house has enough votes to approve the governor’s cutbacks for union employee benefits and bargaining. Ellis, a Republican from Neenah, told the AP he wished there was an alternative which doesn’t go as far. But he said it was Walker who “set this menu,” and most senators support the governor’s plan as is. Assembly Republicans say they’re confident they have the 50 votes to endorse the measure. But eight Assembly Republicans can jump ship and it would still pass – while in the Senate, only three GOP opponents would have been needed to derail the measure, assuming all the minority Democrats vote no. Ellis said he would go along with the package – which forces public union workers to pay more for their health insurance and pensions. It also limits bargaining to pay raises at-or-below inflation. Local police and fire officers are exempt from the bill. Walker says the only other option is to lay off 1,500 state employees now, and six-thousand in the next budget period that starts in July. Ellis said the state is broke and quote, “We don’t want to lay off almost 20,000 people.” Union employees and their supporters are trying to get GOP lawmakers to change their minds at a public hearing at the Capitol today. There have been protest rallies in small schools and large public settings – and a major rally was set for the noon hour today in Madison. Unions and other critics say the bill ends 50 years of labor peace in Wisconsin government – and it’s an assault on middle class employees.
Gov. Walker will deliver the governor’s traditional budget speech a week from today. And for the first time in recent memory, it will not be given to lawmakers at the State Capitol. Walker’s office says the speech will be delivered at Vita Plus, a Madison company that makes feed supplements for livestock – and both houses of the Legislature will meet there at 1:30 next Tuesday afternoon. The purpose is to highlight the governor’s relationship with business he’s been building up with a series of economic bills over the past month-and-a-half. The budget speech normally highlights details of the next two-year spending plan which the governor asks lawmakers to approve. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie says it’s been decades since a governor delivered his budget address away from the Capitol. Werwie’s not sure the last time it happened.