Wis. Budget-Repair Bill Exempts Public Safety Unions
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's David Schaper has the latest from the state capital, Madison.
DAVID SCHAPER: Wisconsin's Republican Governor, Scott Walker, is showing no sign of backing down. He held a late afternoon news conference yesterday, to continue to push for passage, this week, of his so-called Budget Repair Bill. Among other things, it would increase health insurance and pension contributions for most public employees in the state, and strip away most of their collective bargaining rights. And Walker refuses to discuss any kind of compromise, even though public employee unions have offered to give him the financial concessions he wants.
SCOTT WALKER: We're broke. We don't have any more money. We have a $3.6 billion budget deficit and you really can't negotiate when you don't have money to negotiate on. For us to be involved in good faith negotiations, we'd have to offer something. We don't have anything to offer because we don't have any money.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING: KILL THE BILL!)
SCHAPER: Unidentified Woman: Thank you, thank you.
SCHAPER: The nurses, teachers, and other government workers are thankful because these public safety officers don't have to do this. They are exempted from the budget repair bill. Mahlon Mitchell is president of the Wisconsin Professional Firefighters Association.
MAHLON MITCHELL: We do not have to be here but we want to be here with our union brothers and sisters from all over the state and let them know that we're with 'em, and we're going to do whatever it takes so we can get these collective bargaining provisions out of this bill.
SCHAPER: Some Democrats suggest there were political considerations - as Milwaukee's police and fire unions endorsed Republican Walker in last year's election. But Governor Walker says he exempts police officers and firefighters, only because he doesn't want any of them to ever walk off the job in protest.
WALKER: We can by no means ever have a gap when it comes to public safety. I can't have the possibility, anywhere in the state Wisconsin, that if there was a fire or a crime or anything else that there would be one gap, one interruption in services out there.
SCHAPER: Walker continues to insist he is not union busting and that he needs both to increase health care and pension contributions for public employees and eliminate most of their collective bargaining rights to save the state and local governments money, now and in the future. And he says the bill needs to be approved this week, because it includes other cost cutting provisions, including one to refinance state debt to save more than $160 million, savings that might be lost if the bill is further delayed. Walker says that could force him to lay off as many as 1500 state workers. So he is, again, urging Democratic state senators who are staying away from the capitol to prevent a vote on the bill to return to Madison.
WALKER: For those 14 Senate Democrats, you've had your time. Now, it's time to come home.
SCHAPER: David Schaper, NPR News, in Madison, Wisconsin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.