By Kevin Lee Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill will likely move one step closer to his desk as the political battle between the governor and public employee unions escalates further with each day.
Walker introduced a budget repair bill to help set the state finances straight heading into the next two-year budget, but union employees and supporters have erupted in anger because the bill would strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from public employee groups.
Neither side show a willingness to step down. At a news conference Wednesday morning, Walker maintained that union workers needed to make sacrifices in light of the state’s fiscal situation.
“I believe that we’ve got good, decent, hardworking people who work in government,” Walker said. “But I also recognize that to balance the budget, there’s got to be some fairness, and we’ve got to be in balance with where the taxpayers are who foot the bill for all of us in government.”
Democratic lawmakers criticized Walker and Republicans for the move against collective bargaining, which they see as vindictive against public employees.
“The goal is to eliminate collective bargaining,” said state Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar. “Eliminating working conditions doesn’t have anything to do with what taxpayers are paying.”
The state Senate will consider Walker’s proposal when they reconvene starting at 11 a.m. on Thursday. Republicans have a slim 19-14 lead, and union supporters are still hoping to find GOP senators who could oppose the proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, when pressed by reporters, said: “It will pass.”
Republicans added a few changes to the original proposal but kept intact the original changes to collective bargaining.
Local governments would have until April 1 to create a system to hear civil service complaints on certain issues, including layoffs, workplace safety and employee discipline.
Under the governor’s original proposal, limited-term employees, or LTEs, would be stripped of pension and health care benefits. The new proposal maintains benefits for those employees.
The original proposal would allow the Secretary of Human Services Dennis Smith greater authority to revise Medicaid benefits and eligibility, while the GOP-backed amendment would clarify that the new authority would sunset in 2015.
More than 4,000 union workers and supporters showed up inside the Capitol Wednesday to try to revoke the proposal that would strip away most collective bargaining rights for public employees.
State-sponsored sound reading recorders showed that noise in the Capitol reached 105.4 decibels, the equivalent of the roar of a subway train from a distance of 10 feet, according to an University of Wisconsin Web site.
The noise of bagpipes and drumming reverberated throughout the afternoon and evening, but the din will likely be even noisier on Thursday. Seventeen school districts are closing Thursday because of the number of teachers calling in sick with the intention of protesting at the Capitol.