Wisconsin Republicans on Sunday upped the pressure on Democrats who fled to Illinois to return home and vote on an anti-union bill, with the governor calling them obstructionists and a GOP lawmaker threatening to convene without them.
Gov. Scott Walker said the 14 minority Democrats who left Madison on Thursday were failing to do their jobs by “hiding out” in another state. And Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said his chamber would meet Tuesday to act on non-spending bills and confirm some of the governor’s appointees even if the Democrats don’t show up — a scenario that should outrage their constituents.
Senate Democrats acknowledged that the 19 Republicans could pass any item that doesn’t spend state money in their absence. The budget-repair bill they have been blocking requires a quorum of 20 senators to pass, while other measures require only a simple majority of the chamber’s 33 members.
Nonetheless, Democrats said they were standing firm in their opposition to the budget-repair bill, which would take away the right of most public employees to collectively bargain for their benefits and working conditions. Hundreds of protesters filled the Capitol for a sixth straight day, noisily calling on Walker to drop the plan they consider an assault on workers’ rights.
Protesters are pledging to remain in the Wisconsin Capitol while Senate Democrats are committed to staying out of state until a compromise can be found with Gov. Scott Walker on collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.
Snow that turned to freezing rain Sunday considerably reduced the protest activity in the capital of Madison as hundreds gathered inside the Capitol building. That’s significantly fewer than the estimated 68,000 who demonstrated on Saturday.
But Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the state AFL-CIO, said another large protest was expected Monday, when many state workers are being furloughed to save money.
Walker has been targeted by protesters for nearly a week for negotiating a bill now in the state Senate that would require workers to increase their contributions to pensions and health care coverage, would limit collective bargaining rules and tie raises to inflation. Senate Democrats fled Wisconsin to avoid voting on the legislation.
The Republican governor said that while the state enjoys a lower-than-average unemployment rate — about 7.5 percent compared to 9 percent nationally — about 5,000-6,000 state workers and 5,000-6,000 local government workers will find their jobs on the chopping block as the state looks to close a $3.6 billion biennial budget gap.
“I don’t want a single person laid off in the public nor in the private sector and that’s why this is a much better alternative than losing jobs,” Walker told “Fox News Sunday.”
The state’s nearly 300,000 public sector employees are being asked to give up benefits worth about $300 million over two years, or less than 10 percent of the deficit total.
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