Wisconsin governor warns of layoff notices
It’s a high-stakes game of political chicken that has riveted the nation and led to ongoing public protests. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are budging: Mr. Walker says he won’t negotiate, and the 14 missing Senate Democrats say they won’t return until he does.
“We’d love to come back today,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the 14 Democrats who went to Illinois. “We could be up there this afternoon and pass this if he would agree to removing the language that has absolutely nothing to do with balancing the budget.”
The resolution honoring the Packers and the bill extending tax breaks to dairy farmers have bipartisan support, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald — Jeff Fitzgerald’s brother — has tried to put pressure on Democrats by threatening to take up more controversial matters, such as a GOP-backed proposal requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.
“You have shut down the people’s government, and that is not acceptable,” Mr. Fitzgerald said to Democrats during a brief meeting Monday setting the Senate’s agenda for Tuesday. Two Democratic senators participated in the meeting by phone.
Democrats counter that Mr. Walker could compromise and put an end to the stalemate.
“It’s right in front of the governor,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller said. “He just needs to pick it up and allow us to move on. … This is a no-brainer.”
As Mr. Walker spoke under heavy guard at a late Monday afternoon news conference inside his conference room, thousands of protesters could be heard through the doors blowing whistles, banging on drums and chanting, “Scott Walker has got to go!”
“This guy is power drunk, and we’re here to sober him up,” said Bert Zipperer, 54, a counselor at a Madison middle school who was among the protesters. “He wants to do it unilaterally without any compromise. He wants to be a national conservative hero, and he thinks he can get away with this.”
Mr. Walker’s plan would allow unions representing most public employees to negotiate only for wage increases, not benefits or working conditions. Any wage increase above the Consumer Price Index would have to be approved in a referendum. Unions would face a vote of membership every year to stay formed, and workers could opt out of paying dues.
The emergency plan is meant to address this year’s $137 million shortfall and start dealing with the $3.6 billion hole expected by mid-2013. The benefits concessions would amount to $30 million this year, but the largest savings Mr. Walker proposed come from refinancing debt to save $165 million.
That portion must be done by Friday for bonds to be refinanced in time to realize the savings by June 30, the end of this fiscal year.
Mr. Walker said that not passing the bill by Friday would make even deeper cuts necessary and possibly result in laying off 1,500 workers over the next four months.
Associated Press writer Ryan J. Foley contributed to this report.