WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin's public employee unions have agreed to cuts to their health care and pension funds, and a moderate Republican state senator has offered a compromise that would temporarily, not permanently, strip their collective-bargaining rights, but Gov. Scott Walker (R) refuses to budge on the latter issue. Now, state Senate Democrats say they're done with Walker and seek ways to work around him.
"We had a Senate Democratic caucus last night, and we've pretty much given up on the governor," said state Sen. Jim Holperin (D). "I think this is a governor who is a very stubborn individual and maybe does not understand fully the collateral consequences of his stubbornness. So we've decided to refocus on the people we believe may be flexible to some degree, and that's Senate Republicans. A lot of those Senate Republicans have been around a long time, and I think understand the gravity of eliminating rights from people."
Holperin and Wisconsin's other Senate Democrats remain in Illinois, a move that prevents their Republican colleagues from reaching the quorum needed to move forward on budget bills like Walker's. So far, Democrats said, Walker has ignored all their calls and requests to meet together.
State Sen. Dale Schultz (R) recently introduced legislation intended as a compromise, which would temporarily bar public employees from bargaining collectively but would restore those rights in 2013. Holperin declined to say whether he supported that bill but called it "a reasonable idea that merits additional discussion" -- though, as he noted, the governor has vowed to veto such a compromise bill.
Democrats, public employees, and even groups like the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce have expressed frustration that Walker and some Republican legislators have tried to pass the governor's bill with what they say is too little public review.
The original GOP plan was to introduce the bill Feb. 14, hold a public hearing the next day and hold a vote two days after that.
Another provision in the budget-repair bill calls for restructuring state debt, which would save $165 million for the remainder of the fiscal year, but only if it passes no later than Saturday. Walker has warned that if the bill is not passed by then, public workers may start getting layoff warnings early next week.