- Associated Press - Monday, February 28, 2011

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Protesters who spent the night in Wisconsin’s Capitol vowed Monday to remain as long as necessary to speak out against Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to end most collective bargaining rights and demonstrate against his budget.

Mr. Walker planned to deliver his two-year budget plan in the state Assembly chamber on Tuesday afternoon. He has said that plan will help make clear why the collective bargaining concessions he is seeking from public employees are necessary to help plug a $3.6 billion shortfall.

Mr. Walker has said his budget will include about a $1 billion cut in state aid to schools and local governments. He also is expected to propose dramatic changes to how the University of Wisconsin is organized, make cuts to Medicaid and possibly increase fees to help raise money.

Police said Monday that the cleaning of the Capitol continued despite the continued presence of the protesters, as did security preparations for Mr. Walker’s budget speech.

Police decided not to forcibly remove protesters after thousands ignored a 4 p.m. Sunday deadline to leave so the normally immaculate building could get a thorough cleaning. Wisconsin Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said no demonstrators will be arrested as long as they continue to obey the law.

“People here have acted lawfully and responsibly,” Chief Tubbs said. “There’s no reason to consider arrests.”

The floors where several hundred protesters had slept previous nights looked unusually bare late Sunday as the smaller crowd of people walked around in socks, lounged on blankets and curled up under jackets.

But organizers said they were confident that demonstrators who were persuaded to leave Sunday would return to continue fighting Mr. Walker’s efforts to strip nearly all public workers from their collective bargaining rights except over wages. The protesters’ sit-in began Feb. 15 and hit its peak Saturday, when more than 70,000 people descended on the Capitol grounds for a rally.

Mr. Walker argues that his measure would help close a projected $3.6 billion deficit in the 2011-13 budget. He believes that freeing local governments from having to collectively bargain with public employee unions would give them the flexibility needed to deal with forthcoming budget cuts.

Labor leaders and Democratic lawmakers say the bill is intended to undermine the unions and weaken a key base of Democratic Party voters.

Paul Golueke, 24, a social worker from Milwaukee, said he planned to stay at the Capitol until at least Tuesday’s budget address.

“If the budget contains provisions like in this budget-repair bill, I’ll stay here as long as it takes,” Mr. Golueke said. “Scott Walker doesn’t understand our passion. The eyes of the nation, of the world, are on us, and we can’t back down.”

The state agency that oversees the Capitol had asked demonstrators to leave by Sunday afternoon, saying the building was in dire need of a cleaning. But it was clear that the estimated 4,000 protesters had no intention of leaving voluntarily.

Chief Tubbs said demonstrators who had occupied all three floors of the Capitol would have to relocate to the ground floor. He said anyone who left the building would not be allowed back in until the morning, although union officials were allowed to deliver food to the protesters during the night.

“It was a victory for peace. It was a victory for democracy,” said Kara Randall, 46, a massage therapist from Middleton who already had spent five nights at the Capitol.

Mr. Walker’s spokesman declined to comment late Sunday on the police decision to keep the Capitol open to demonstrators. In an interview earlier in the day on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Walker said the lengthy protests haven’t eroded his resolve to push forward with his legislative agenda.

“Year after year, governors and legislators before us have kicked the can down the road,” Walker said. “We can’t do that. We’re broke. It’s about time someone stood up and told the truth in our state and said here’s our problem, here’s the solution and let’s do this.”

Mr. Walker’s proposal stalled in the state Senate when its 14 Democrats fled the state for Illinois, leaving the legislative body one vote short of a quorum. The Democratic senators have vowed to stay away from Wisconsin for as long as it takes. Democrats in Indiana have boycotted their Statehouse for the past week to prevent a vote on Republican-backed proposals to introduce a similar bill.

State Sen. Jim Holperin, one of the 14 from Wisconsin, said Monday morning that the Democrats remain united in their intention to stay away until a compromise can be found.

“I just believe there is some middle ground here,” Mr. Holperin said.

One of the Democrats, state Sen. Lena Taylor, sent a tweet to support the protesters that read: “Thank you for exercising your 1st amend right - I’m glad my actions give you opportunity to stand/sit/express yourself!”

Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this story.


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