- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gov. Scott Walker refused to back down Sunday in his budget showdown with Wisconsin’s public-employee unions, saying the state is poised at a historic crossroads.

“We’re broke,” said the Republican governor, whose battle with unions in Wisconsin has landed him at the center of a national debate about government spending.

“I do believe that this is our moment in Wisconsin history,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, speaking on the same program, said the governor wasn’t interested in solving the state’s fiscal crisis, accusing Mr. Walker instead of wanting to break the state’s unions.

Mr. Trumka said the tactic is backfiring, and he predicted the public would support union rights in Wisconsin and in the 2012 presidential elections.

“He’s losing. If that’s the argument, it’s a loser,” he said.

The governor has shrugged off critics, including President Obama, pointing out that the new rules that would apply to state and municipal employees would be similar to the labor rules that govern federal workers.

Mr. Walker said he has rejected a proposed one-year budget compromise with Democrats and organized labor that includes many of the concessions sought by Republicans, but only for a single year because “we’ve kicked the can down the road, and we can’t do that again.”

The Republican governor, faced with a projected $3.6 billion shortfall in the state’s 2011-13 budgets, is backing a bill that would strip most state and local public employees of the right to collective bargaining on benefits.

In addition to helping Wisconsin close its budget gap, the bill also would give local government officials the tools needed to tackle their own fiscal problems, the governor says.

But the proposal sent a shock wave through organized labor and the state’s Democratic minority and caused the party’s 14 state senators to flee the state to stymie the Republicans by denying the legislative quorum needed to act on budget and spending bills.

In Madison, the demonstrations continued Sunday at the state Capitol despite a 4 p.m. deadline to clear the building, which sorely needed cleaning.

When it became clear Sunday night that demonstrators had no intention of leaving, Wisconsin Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs told reporters there was “no reason to consider arrests” as long as people continued to act “lawfully and responsibly.”

Mr. Walker, who opted out of the National Governors Association meeting in Washington this week to oversee the crisis in Wisconsin, said if the bill isn’t passed, the state will have layoffs instead of cutbacks.

“If we do not get these changes, and the Democrats do not come back, we’re going to be forced to do massive layoffs. … I would go to almost any ends to avoid layoffs,” he said.

While Mr. Walker wasn’t in Washington, his budget showdown was a hot topic among the state chief executives in Washington for their annual national conference.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — each of whom also is facing a $3 billion budget shortfall in his own state — defended their differing approaches.

Mr. Scott, tackling his first budget since winning the Florida governor’s post last year, has vowed he will close the state’s budget gap without raising taxes.

“People in Florida believe [state government] has enough money. We just need to spend it better,” said Mr. Scott, a Republican.

Mr. Malloy, a Democratic former mayor who also is in his first term, said his proposal includes tax increases and spending cuts to close the budget gap. “I’ve asked for shared sacrifice — and that includes unions,” Mr. Malloy said.

He repeated his contention that public-employee unions have to make concessions because of the current economy in Connecticut and elsewhere, but he was sharply critical of the partisan fight in Madison.

“Do I think the Democrats look great in this? No,” he said. “Do I think what’s happening in Wisconsin is a travesty? Yes. We should not be attacking people’s rights to join organizations. I mean, it’s un-American … I think people use the tools that they have, and in this case, preventing a quorum from taking place is one of those tools.”

But Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” was less charitable, telling host Jake Tapper that the Democratic lawmakers who fled Madison are “despicable.”