To say Wisconsin has been in the grip of political chaos for the last two weeks is an understatement. Both sides have dug in. Fourteen Democratic Senators have fled to Illinois to protest to the budget repair bill, while public employees and over 100,000 total supporters have marched on the Capitol in solidarity. Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans have kept to their message on employee contributions and a reduction in collective bargaining options.
Walker has been unwaivering. Since introducing his budget repair bill (AB11 and SB11) on Feb. 11, he has held almost nightly press conferences and appeared on most of the major television networks, reiterating the state’s dire finances and his plan to increase public employee contributions, reduce collective bargaining options and the reorganize Medicaid.
The Democrats and unions gave in on Walker’s proposed employee contributions of 5.8 and 12.6 percent to their pensions and health care premiums, respectively. Their concession denied, they have now zeroed in on the proposed loss of worker’s rights as their last stand.
Walker appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and TMJ4’s Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes Sunday morning, and did not stray from his talking points, including the phony phone call.
MTP host David Gregory, from Washington D.C., was hard-hitting with Walker, repeatedly asking why the removal of collective bargaining rights is so important to the Governor’s plan. He also pushed Walker to explain why this bill is an all or nothing deal.
Walker gave his pat answer: public employees need to share the costs of pensions and health care like their private-sector counterparts, and that by eliminating collective bargaining at the local level, those municipalities will be in a better position to make employment changes when Walker’s 2011-2013 biennial budget cuts take effect.
He added that collective bargaining has to go because local unions can’t be trusted to follow the state union promise to contribute to their benefit plans.
“We need assurances,” Walker said. “Right now local unions are pushing contracts through that don’t include the contributions and in one case, Janesville, they even tried to get a pay raise.”
He cited the recent ratification of the Milwaukee Area Technical College three-year contract for faculty and paraprofessionals that protects their pensions and gives full-time employees a no-layoff guarantee in exchange for higher health care premiums and a two-year wage freeze. He also recalled, during his tenure as Milwaukee County Executive, the county’s union leaders preferring for him to lay off employees rather than accept a 35-hour work week when the county was facing fiscal issues.
When Gregory pushed the idea of compromise or separating the collective bargaining grab from the bill, Walker cited the federal government’s practice of not allowing collective bargaining for any wage or benefit topics by federal workers.
Later, on Sykes’ program, Walker said if the unions are so upset with his proposal, they should really be picketing the White House and the Capitol in D.C., where worker’s rights are even more restricted.
And on both programs, Walker noted that Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels eliminated collective bargaining in 2005 by executive fiat, not through legislative change. He pointed out that there has been no loss of employee status or pay levels there.
Sykes, an unabashed supporter of the Governor, was more congenial to Walker. He inquired about Walker’s family and their safety; whether Walker regrets the phony “David Koch” phone call and if he or the administrative staff considered planting “troublemakers” among the protestors in and around the Capitol.
Walker said his family is okay; they have grown used to the vitriol directed at him after his eight years as Milwaukee County Executive. He admitted the prank phone call could have been shorter, but he stands by what he said in the call about changing the course of the state.
And for the “troublemaker-plant” idea, Walker said neither he nor any administration official made the suggestion. Instead it came from one of the thousands of e-mails or calls received in the office and it was immediately dismissed.
“We all rejected that idea,” Walker said. “But the protests have been good. This has been an example of good Midwest civil discourse.”
Sykes did ask if Walker was serious about the layoffs if the bill is not approved, and why the deadline has been pushed back to tomorrow, after the public has heard the drop dead date for the refinancing had been given as last Friday.
While Walker had no explanation for the date shift, he did reiterate that he will not blink, and that layoffs will come if the bill isn’t passed.
“I’m an optimist and I’m hopeful that by Tuesday some of the 14 will come back to save the $165 million and spare those layoffs.”
Will the Wisconsin 14 blink first and come back to allow the vote, avoiding the layoffs and refinancing loss? Has Walker been bluffing the last two weeks? Or will the pink slips fly on Wednesday?
You’ve heard the positions. You decide.
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- Tracking the budget repair bill: Will it stand up in court?
- Milwaukee needs a good kick in the a$$
- Walker: pass the bill or the layoffs will begin
- State budget fires rage across the Midwest