Wisconsin Democrats Hide Out To Protect Union Workers From Losing Benefits

Via The Wall Street Journal:

MADISON, Wis.—State Democratic senators, holed up in out-of-state hotels, gave no timetable for a return to the capital, putting on hold a fiscal bill that would limit collective-bargaining rights for most state workers.

“When we go back is ultimately up to the governor’s willingness to sit down and talk about this and come up with some sort of resolution,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who fled with 13 colleagues on Thursday to deprive Republicans of the needed quorum to pass the measure. He spoke by phone from a Chicago hotel, where he planned to stay Friday night.

But Republicans, surrounded by thousands of raucous protesters singing and chanting on the Capitol grounds, offered little hope of compromise.

“The protesters have every right to have their voices heard, but I’m not going to be intimidated into thinking I should ignore the voices of the five-and-a-half million taxpayers,” said Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Mr. Walker also bristled at comments by President Barack Obama that his bill “seems like more of an assault” on unions. “When your budget is fixed, you can stick your nose in ours,” Mr. Walker said. “But in the meantime, let us fix our budget the way we said we were going to.”

Mr. Walker, elected last fall as part of a sweep that also gave the GOP control of both houses of the legislature, last week proposed a “budget repair” bill to address a deficit of $137 million in the current budget and a projected shortfall of $3.6 billion in the next two years.

The measure would limit collective-bargaining rights for most workers—except police, firefighters and others involved in public safety—and require state employees, who currently pay little or nothing toward their pensions, to contribute 5.8% of their pay to pensions, and pay at least 12.6% of health-care premiums, up from an average of 6%.

In exchange, Mr. Walker has pledged no layoffs or furloughs for the state’s 170,000 public employees. He has said 5,500 state jobs and 5,000 local jobs would be saved under his plan, which would save $30 million in the current budget and $300 million in the two-year budget that begins July 1.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, attacked those budget numbers in a speech on the steps of the Capitol Friday, telling the crowd the budget deficit was “a bogus crisis manufactured by Walker himself.”

Mr. Trumka said the state had a surplus when Mr. Walker took office until he “gave away tax breaks to the rich and his CEO buddies” so he could come back to you and “play the part of the brave fiscal soldier willing to make the hard choices.”

Read More: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704900004576152320132834818.html?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTTopStories