Governor Scott Walker took the case for his budget repair bill to the state last night. Walker said his controversial budget repair bill is needed in order to avoid laying off thousands of state employees. “Despite a lot of the rhetoric we’ve heard over the past 11 days the bill I put forward isn’t aimed at state workers, and it certainly isn’t a battle with unions. If it was, we would have eliminated collective bargaining entirely or we would have gone after the private-sector unions,” Walker said. “We did not because they are our partners in economic development. We need them to help us put 250,000 people to work in the private sector over the next four years.”
Walker, who has been accused of union busting by organized labor and Democrats in the legislature, insisted his bill is about one thing – balancing the state’s budget now and in the future. Walker said Wisconsin faces a $137 million deficit for the remainder of this fiscal year and a $3.6 billion deficit for the upcoming budget. He called on the 14 state Senate Republicans who fled Madison last week in order to avoid voting for the bill to return to work, and said failure to act now will mean 1500 state employees will be laid off before the end of June. If there is no agreement by July 1st, Walker claimed another 5,000-6,000 state workers and a similar number of local government employees would be also laid off.
Walker’s address came a week after the first relatively small protest against his bill, which has grown into rallies that have drawn thousands to the Capitol in opposition to his proposal. “As more and more protesters come in from Nevada, Chicago and elsewhere, I am not going to allow their voices to overwhelm the voices of the millions of taxpayers from across the state who think we’re doing the right thing,” Walker said. “This is a decision that Wisconsin will make.” As the Walker spoke in the governor’s conference room at the Capitol, the sound of protesters could be heard in the background.
Senator Mark Miller, the Minority Leader and one of the 14 Senate Democrat Walker wants back in Madison to take the vote, delivered a brief response in which he repeated the argument the Democrats and public employees have been making since last Friday: that the unions are willing to make concessions on pension and health care costs in order to help close the deficit. “All they ask in return is that they be able to keep their rights,” said Miller. “This is a compromise which any good leader should be able to recognize and seize.”