Democrats in the legislature and their allies vow a fight against Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill. Expect some heated rhetoric in this week’s debate, as members of the minority party at the Capitol vow not to go down without a fight. “We now have the makings of a dictator here in Wisconsin,” said Representative Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie). “We are at a race to the bottom when we go after our state workers and our teachers.” Walker’s budget repair bill seeks to strip state workers, along with teachers any many local government employees, of much of their ability to collectively bargain for their benefits. Walker said that’s necessary in order to close the $137 million gap in the current two year state budget.
“I don’t think that this is a legitimate response to the budget crisis,” said Robert Kraig with Citizen Action of Wisconsin, one of many critics of Walker’s plan. “He hasn’t talked to the public employee unions to try to resolve it, and in addition the governor and the state legislature have all the authority that they want to reduce spending, regardless of whether there are collective bargaining units in place.” Walker has said that he can’t bargain with the unions because the state is broke and he has nothing to bargain with. He wants state workers to make greater contributions to their health care premiums, and to begin contributing to their pensions.
State Representative Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton) said Walker has launched an “attach on teachers” which does not bode well for the future. “What he’s doing to teachers shocks me. But more importantly I’m worried about what’s coming on the 22nd of February,” when Walker introduces his two year state budget plan. “The cuts to education simply have to be shockingly deep. Considering what he’s been doing with tax give aways and tax credits, the only place to cut is going to be education,” said Pope-Roberts.
“Governor Walker’s talked about being the CEO of the state,” said Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma). “Every business I talk to says that their associates or their employees are their most important resource, In order to get our state on the right track, we’ve got to value that resource, and these steps do not take us there.”
Citizen Action’s Kraig argues that Walker’s proposal goes well beyond restricting unions ability to bargain for benefits, and that if passed it would eliminate public unions. “There’s a series of provisions in proposal that make it impossible for public employee unions to exist,” said Kraig. “This is not an attempt to limit public employee unions, it’s an attempt to eliminate them, and if passed in it’s current form, I think it would successfully do that.”
Meeting with reporters on Monday, Walker attempted to refute claims that the bill will put an end to employment protections for many workers. While state labor contracts often include those provisions, Walker said they are also written into state law and the bill will not remove them. He says workers will still have civil service protections in place.