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Largest crowd yet descends on Wis. Capitol
Democrats offered again Saturday to agree to the parts of Walker’s proposal that would double workers’ health insurance contributions and require them to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary to their pensions, so long as workers retained their rights to negotiate with the state as a union.
Fitzgerald said he was unimpressed given that the offer was something the GOP has rejected for months. The restrictions on collective bargaining rights are needed so local governments and the state will have the flexibility needed to balance budgets after cuts Walker plans to announce next month, he said.
Walker, who was spending time with his family Saturday and wasn’t expected to make an appearance at the tea party-organized rally, also rejected the Democrats offer. His spokesman, Cullen Werwie, said the fastest way to end the stalemate was for Democrats to return and “do their jobs.”
Sen. Tim Cullen, a Democrat from Janesville, refused to say where he was Saturday but said he didn’t expect the Senate to meet again until Tuesday. Cullen said he was watching Saturday’s rallies on television with some friends.
“I’m hoping to see no violence, that’s what I’m hoping most to see,” Cullen said. “This has been a very peaceful, respectful thing all week given the size of the crowds.”
Madison police estimated 60,000 or more people were outside the Capitol with up to 8,000 more inside. Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney had planned to add 60 deputies to the 100 who patrolled during the week. But Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said there had been no arrests or problems by midafternoon.
“We’ve seen and shown the world that in Madison, Wis., we can bring people together who disagree strongly on a bill in a peaceful way,” DeSpain said.
Steve Boss, 26, a refrigerator technician from Oostburg, carried a sign that read “The Protesters Are All ‘Sick’ — Wash your Hands,” a reference to the teacher sick-outs that swelled crowds at the Capitol to 40,000 people Friday and raised the noise in its rotunda to earsplitting levels. Boss said the cuts Walker has proposed were painful but needed to fix the state’s financial problems.
“It’s time to address the issue. They (public workers) got to take the same cuts as everyone else,” he said. “It’s a fairness thing.”
Doctors from numerous hospitals set up a station near the Capitol to provide notes covering public employees’ absences. Family physician Lou Sanner, 59, of Madison, said he had given out hundreds of notes. Many of the people he spoke with seemed to be suffering from stress, he said.
“What employers have a right to know is if the patient was assessed by a duly licensed physician about time off of work,” Sanner said. “Employers don’t have a right to know the nature of that conversation or the nature of that illness. So it’s as valid as every other work note that I’ve written for the last 30 years.”
John Black, 46, of Madison, said he came out to the rallies in order to help bridge the gap between the pro-labor protesters and tea party members. He carried signs that asked for a compromise on the budget bill while a friend’s son handed out purple flowers.
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