MADISON, Wis. — After focusing for weeks on his proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday presented his full budget – a plan that cuts $1.5 billion in aid to public schools and local government but avoids any tax or fee increases, furloughs or widespread layoffs.
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Walker said the cuts could be paid for in large part by forcing government employees to pay more for their pension and health care benefits. And the governor whose cost-cutting ideas have stirred a national debate over public-sector unions gave no indication he would soften his demand to reduce their power at the negotiating table."This is a reform budget," Walker told lawmakers inside the Assembly chamber as protesters on the floor below screamed, banged on drums and blew horns. "It is about getting Wisconsin working again, and to make that happen, we need a balanced budget that works – and an environment where the private sector can create 250,000 jobs over the next four years."
Walker's legislation has drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators to the Capitol over the last three weeks, and tensions were still evident when Walker outlined the budget during a joint session of the Legislature convened under heavy security. Assembly Democrats refused to stand and greet the governor as he arrived to speak.
"It feels like we're announcing a going-out-of-business sale," said state Rep. Cory Mason, a Democrat from Racine who criticized Walker's proposed cuts to education.
Walker's budget places "the entire burden of Wisconsin's budget shortfall on our children, our most vulnerable citizens in need of health care and long-term care, and our dedicated public employees," said Robert Kraig, director of the consumer advocacy group Citizen Action of Wisconsin.
Doing so is Walker's "own value choice, not an economic necessity forced on him by others," Kraig said.
The governor released his two-year budget in part to support his argument that public-worker concessions are essential to confront a projected $3.6 billion shortfall. His proposal to eliminate most collective bargaining remains in limbo after Senate Democrats fled the state to prevent a vote.
Wisconsin "cannot grow if our people are weighed down paying for a larger and larger government, a government that pays its workers unsustainable benefits that are out of line with the private sector," he said. "We need a leaner and cleaner state government."
By eliminating most collective bargaining, Walker says, state agencies, local governments and school districts will have flexibility to react quickly to the cuts.
Even though Walker isn't ordering immediate layoffs of state workers, his budget will put tremendous pressure on schools and local governments, which will be asked to shoulder huge cuts without raising property taxes to make up the difference.
Walker's budget includes a nearly 9 percent cut in aid to schools, which would amount to a reduction of nearly $900 million. The governor also proposed requiring school districts to reduce their property tax authority by an average of $550 per pupil – a move that makes it more difficult for schools to make up the lost money.
Additionally, cities would get nearly $60 million less in aid, an 8.8 percent cut, while counties would lose more than $36 million, a 24 percent reduction. They would not be allowed to increase property taxes except to account for new construction.
Walker estimates that his controls on property taxes would save $736 over the next two years for the owner of a home valued at the median price of $161,300.
He proposed a $500 million cut to Medicaid, which would be achieved through a number of changes that include increasing co-payments and deductibles and requiring participants in SeniorCare to be enrolled in Medicare Part D, too.
Walker asked for $82 million in tax cuts, including an expanded exclusion for capital gains realized on investments made in Wisconsin-based businesses. The Legislature previously approved more than $117 million in Walker-backed tax cuts that take effect later this year.
The budget also cuts funding at most state agencies, by 10 percent, except for salary and benefits.
He would permanently eliminate 735 positions that have been vacant for more than a year. Some other jobs could be cut, but no widespread layoffs were envisioned. State spending over the next two years would go up a paltry 1.3 percent.
Walker targeted many law changes passed by Democrats in recent years.
He wants to undo changes made by Democrats to allow prisoners to earn time off their sentences for good behavior. Instead, Walker would reinstitute a truth-in-sentencing law that he sponsored while a member of the Assembly.
He would no longer allow children of illegal immigrants who attend state universities and colleges to pay in-state tuition.
As expected, Walker proposed removing the flagship Madison campus from the University of Wisconsin system, leaving 12 other four-year campuses and 13 two-year universities. The system has been ordered to study a similar move for the Milwaukee campus.
Over the next several months, the Legislature will review Walker's budget and offer revisions, with the expectation that lawmakers would vote by early summer.
It wasn't clear when Senate Democrats would return to take up his collective bargaining proposal. Walker said in his speech that their inaction could lead to thousands of layoffs in order to balance the budget, but decisions on whether to cut teachers and other local government employees are not up to Walker.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald met Monday in Kenosha with some of the missing Democrats and discussed terms under which they could return. Fitzgerald said they didn't talk about changing the bill, which he said would not be altered.
He would not say who was at the meeting or how many were there, but no agreement was reached.
"We keep taking," Fitzgerald said.
Senate Democrats held their own news conference in Illinois to criticize Walker after his speech. "It's a sad day for our state," said Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay.
Numerous compromises designed to end the stalemate have been floated by unions, Democrats and even a Republican senator, but none has gained traction.
In addition to the bargaining rights changes, the bill designed to fill this year's projected $137 million deficit called for refinancing state debt to save $165 million. But the deadline to get that done was Tuesday.
Walker has threatened to make more cuts after the deadline but has not outlined what those would be.
Polls indicate national public opinion favors unions in the dispute, but Walker has been resolute.
A Pew Research Center poll released Monday found 42 percent of adults surveyed nationwide sided with the unions and 31 percent sided with Walker. That poll of 1,009 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The latest New York Times-CBS poll found Americans oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of almost two to one – 60 percent to 33 percent. The nationwide telephone poll of 984 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Just a quarter of adults in the poll considered public employees' benefits and pay to be too high, while about the same share believed they are too low. About 36 percent say they are about right.
Majorities oppose cutting public employee benefits or pay in order to reduce state budget deficits or taking away some collective bargaining rights from public employee unions.
Some of the opposition may stem from skepticism about the state government's motivations. Forty-five percent of those who responded to the New York Times-CBS poll believe states want to reduce employee benefits to help ease the deficit, but nearly as many (41 percent) say their aim is to weaken the power of unions.
Both polls were conducted Feb. 24-27.
The Atlantic reports that at one town hall meeting in Wisconsin, one GOP state senator faced "loud opposition" to a proposed compromise.
About 50 pro-union protesters peacefully left the state Capitol late Thursday after a judge ruled they could no longer spend the night to show their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to eliminate nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.
The judge also ruled the state had violated the public's free speech and assembly rights by restricting access to the building.
AP reports that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will issue layoff notices to 1,500 state employees Friday if his union bill doesn't pass by then:
Walker also said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is negotiating with Democrats who stymied passage of the bill by leaving the state for changes to the proposal that would get them to return. Walker said he won't compromise on the collective bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.
"I can't take any of that off the table," he said.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Democratic State Senators in Wisconsin have been threatened with contempt by Republicans, if they don't return by 4 p.m. today:
Republicans in the state Senate ordered Democrats on Thursday to return to the chamber by 4 p.m. or be found in contempt of the Senate - a move that means Democrats could be taken into custody.
"We simply cannot have democracy be held hostage because the minority wants to prove a point," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).
HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal writes:
A new survey released this morning by the Pew Research Center is the first to provide a clear before-and-after snapshot of national attitudes toward labor unions in the wake of the ongoing protests and budget conflict in Wisconsin:
The public’s overall views of labor unions have changed little through the lengthy stalemate between Wisconsin’s governor and the state’s public employee unions over collective bargaining rights. About half (47%) say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions compared with 39% who have an unfavorable opinion. In early February, 45% expressed a favorable opinion of unions and 41% said they had an unfavorable view. However, liberal Democrats and people in union households are more likely to say they have a very favorable opinion of labor unions than they were just weeks ago.
See the Pew Research report for their complete analysis and full results by party, ideology and union membership subgroups. The Pew Center had also conducted an in-depth survey on unions in early February, just before Walker released the budget bill that sparked the protests.
On Wednesday afternoon, former congressman Dave Obey -- who served from 1969 until retiring this year -- was barred from entering the Wisconsin statehouse.
“I’ve been coming to this building since 1958 and I’ve never been denied access,” Obey stated. Although he did not tell security officials who he was -- because he believed everyone should have access, regardless of title -- others did inform them.
Yesterday, a judge issued an injunction ordering the Capitol building "open...to members of the public during business hours and at times when governmental matters, such as hearings, listening sessions and court arguments are being conducted."
Several Democratic members of the Assembly set up desks outside to meet with their constituents, arguing that people could not get to their offices.
“Governor Walker’s lockdown of the Capitol during normal business hours betrays Wisconsin’s longstanding dedication to open government and is an insult to the people of Wisconsin," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D) in a statement. "I call on Governor Walker to let the people back into the People’s House immediately.”
The City of Madison has filed a police report charging a 23-year-old man for "disorderly conduct" after he unplugged extension cords from a Fox News vehicle. Read the full report here.
Adding another state into the debate on public workers, West Virginia's Herald-Dispatch reports:
West Virginia's public employees would reap pay raises averaging 2 percent this year, with a second year of increases promised to teachers and school workers, under a proposal advanced Wednesday to the state Senate by the House.
But the 78-22 vote reflected GOP-led concerns that increasing state spending threatens a stable budgetary picture that has so far allowed West Virginia to avoid deficits and the painful choices they can force. Foes also contrasted the pay hikes with the state's continuing unemployment woes.
Full story here.
More details have surfaced on Ohio's controversial SB 5, which just passed the state senate.
Senate Bill 5 would prohibit public-employee unions representing teachers, librarians, toll collectors and others from bargaining over health benefits, pensions and working conditions. Under the bill, unions could still negotiate wages, but striking would be prohibited for all public workers, taking away a major bargaining chip. Workers could face a fine of up to ,000, or 30 days in jail, if they go on strike.
A Twitter campaign, #standupOH, has already mounted. As user @escapetochengdu tweeted, "The bill that just passed Ohio Senate allows the government to jail striking librarians for 30 days. Despicable."
Read the whole Wall Street Journal story here.
The bill put forth by an Ohio panel earlier today has passed the state senate, TPM reports:
The Ohio State Senate just passed the controversial SB 5, aimed a limiting unionized state employees' ability to collectively bargain or go on strike.
In an indication of how divisive the legislation is in the Buckeye State, the final vote in the Senate was 17-16.
Gov. John Kasich (R) has endorsed the measure and is expected to sign it when it reaches his desk.
Full story here.
A tourism campaign leveraging the Wisconsin senators who fled to Rockford, Illinois has gone viral. The push, "Hide Away In Rockford," hawks "collectively bargained" rates to some of the town's best tourist attractions.
“Unlike Wisconsin’s state senators, this video isn’t low key; it’s been a real runaway hit," said Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB) President/CEO John Groh of the campaign's success.
Watch the promotional video here.
HuffPost's resident pollster Mark Blumenthal reports:
WASHINGTON -- A automated telephone poll conducted this week in Wisconsin by the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) largely confirms other recent polls showing public support for collective bargaining rights for unions and, by a narrow margin, more opposition than support for the agenda of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Some caution is in order, however, about several vote preference questions included in the same survey.
Despite the ongoing coverage and national interest in the controversy, all of the opinion surveys taken within Wisconsin so far have had sponsors with partisan ties, and each has taken a different approach to the questions asked. Where their questions have been similar, however, we can begin to compare the results.
Read more here.
HuffPost's Amanda Terkel and Sam Stein report:
WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin's Republican state senators are attempting to commandeer the staffs of the 14 Democrats who have been camped out in nearby Illinois for nearly two weeks, the latest effort to convince their colleagues to return and move forward on Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget repair bill.
A resolution proposed on Wednesday would allow Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) to "assign supervision over any employee appointed by a Senator who is absent without leave for 2 or more session days." The absent senator would retain control of the office's data, however, presumably meaning that Republican senators would not be allowed to access the Democrats' electronic or paper files.
The measure is almost certain to pass, as the state Committee on Senate Organization, which has jurisdiction over such measures, is composedd of three Republicans and two Democrats. Fitzgerald's office could not be reached for comment.
Read the rest here.
HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:
WASHINGTON -- The Wisconsin Democratic Party has launched a fundraising campaign to recall state Senate Republicans who have supported the budget bill by Gov. Scott Walker (R) that would strip collective bargaining rights from the state's public employee unions.
Read the whole story, and see the email they sent out, here.
Reuters reports that a panel of state senators in Ohio has voted to strip unions of some collective bargaining rights as well as the right to strike:
The Senate Labor Committee vote was 7-5, with one Republican and four Democrats voting against. The measure now moves to the Republican-controlled state Senate, which could approve it as early as Wednesday.
If endorsed by the state legislature and signed by Republican Governor John Kasich, Ohio would become the biggest state so far to enact sweeping restrictions on public sector unions.
Full story here.
Wisconsin state GOP senators voted to fine their absent colleagues 0 per day they stay away, the Wisconsin State Journal reports:
Senate Republicans stepped up their efforts Wednesday to compel the 14 Senate Democrats who fled Wisconsin two weeks ago to come home.
The Senate voted to impose a 0 per day fee for any senator who is absent without leave for two or more session days. Republicans remaining in the Senate approved the daily fine resolution with none of the Democrats present.
Full story here.
Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald spoke with CNN's Eliot Spitzer, during which Spitzer asked him if it was fair to cut both education funding and taxes for the wealthy.
HuffPost's Sam Stein reports that ,000 was raised online in first two hours for new PCCC/DFA ad hitting Scott Walker and Republicans in Wisconsin. By the three-hour mark, the amount had risen to ,000.
See ad and fundraising here.
HuffPost's Nick Wing looks at the myriad advertisements that have emerged on Wisconsin airwaves since the protests began:
Tensions between Wisconsin public employees and Republican Gov. Scott Walker have led to the beginning of an advertising war marked by a volley of commercials coming from a variety of sources.
The first salvo was launched last week by a third-party group, the Koch-backed conservative organization Americans for Prosperity. Entitled "Stand with Scott Walker," the commercial commends the governor for purportedly taking the necessary steps to address the state's budget shortfalls, actions that would force public employees to pay a larger share of their pensions and health care benefits, as well as limit collective bargaining rights of the state's unions. It also directs blame at President Obama for supposedly helping to organize the massive protests, which the ad argues don't represent the will of Wisconsin voters.
Read more and watch the commercials here.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is out with a new ad in Wisconsin that features protesters in Madison describing how Gov. Scott Walker's budget will affect them. Scroll down for video, via Greg Sargent.
More details on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's press conference today, AP reports:
After focusing for weeks on his proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday presented his full budget – a plan that cuts .5 billion in aid to public schools and local government but avoids any tax or fee increases, furloughs or widespread layoffs.
Walker said the cuts could be paid for in large part by forcing government employees to pay more for their pension and health care benefits. And the governor whose cost-cutting ideas have stirred a national debate over public-sector unions gave no indication he would soften his demand to reduce their power at the negotiating table.
Full story here.
HuffPost blogger Tom Hayes examines the situation in Wisconsin in the context of social networking:
If anyone in the world should be paying close attention to the grassroots political unrest in the Middle East, it is Big Business and Big Labor in America. The rise of self-organized groups of people toppling once-entrenched regimes is a harbinger of things to come here in the U.S. too.
For now, traditional battle lines are more immediate. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker's attempt to break the public employee union there is being characterized by some as a last gasp test for Labor. It is not. The fate of big unions has already been cast. Like record stores and time-bound television, the labor union as an organizing device has outlived its usefulness: people simply don't need intermediaries to organize them into groups anymore.
Read the whole post here.
Wisconsin state representative Michelle Litjens (R), who was allegedly told she was "f---ing dead" by fellow representative Gordon Hintz for voting in favor of the budget bill, discussed the scuffle with Laura Ingraham on her radio show. (Hintz has since apologized for his "outburst," and Litjens says she accepts the apology.)
LISTEN (via Mediaite):
Governor Walker just asserted his budget repair bill will save the state .5 billion. He says if the senate Democrats come home, local governments will gain 0 million in additional revenues.
Governor Walker is calling for Wisconsinites to come together to "make tough decisions," asking for a commitment to the "future" so "our children don't face even more dire consequences." He asserts that his budget bill will make Wisconsin work for the people again.
Scott Walker has just said the "people of Wisconsin" are his most important priority, to applause. He asks his constituents to be "mindful of differences" in opinion, and applauds the state assembly for "not losing sight" of their goals and passing the budget bill.
Governor Scott Walker is currently holding a press conference to discuss his proposed cuts to the state budget. Updates to come. Watch live video here.
Wisconsin TV producer Jen Ayers just tweeted:
Snipers on the roof of buildings near the capitol... wowsers.
More to come...
Democrats have raised the possibility of pushing a recall campaign against Republican state senators in Wisconsin who vote to strip the collective bargaining rights of public employees. On the other side, Republicans have talked about recalling some of the Democratic senators who left the state.
Now on the liberal blog DailyKos, Chris Bowers writes that Democrats who strike a compromise to take away collective bargaining rights should also expect to face progressive heat:
If this bill passes with the provisions stripping collective bargaining rights, then anyone who votes for it should expect to face a broadly based recall effort that we will support here at Daily Kos. Further, the Democratic senators who break first and let collective bargaining rights be stripped by returning to the state should not necessarily consider themselves exempt from such a campaign. This is an existential fight for workers' rights, and as such it must be fought with every legal means available.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Brewers infielder Craig Counsell supports the efforts of Wisconsin's union workers.
He said in a statement:
“As a Major League baseball player for the Milwaukee Brewers who works in Wisconsin under a union contract and whose right to bargain collectively is guaranteed under federal law, I support the thousands of public sector employees who are threatened with the loss of that right under recently-proposed state legislation. These employees are real people with real families whose livelihoods, careers and futures are being jeopardized. I urge the government of Wisconsin not to take away this most basic of union and human rights.”