MADISON, Wisconsin – Wisconsin state senate Republicans on Tuesday are expected to take up minor bills as Senate Democrats stay out of state in a tense stand-off with Gov. Scott Walker over a budget proposal to strip collective bargaining rights from many state workers.
Tens of thousands of chanting demonstrators gathered at the capital on Monday and over the weekend to protest the proposal, pushing the new Republican governor's attempt to trim a projected $3.6 billion deficit into the national spotlight.
Wisconsin has become the flashpoint for a U.S. struggle over efforts to roll back pay, benefits and bargaining rights of government workers. If the majority Republicans prevail, other states such as Ohio and Tennessee could be buoyed in efforts to take on the long-standing powerful unions.
Walker, who plans a televised address on Tuesday evening, on Monday called the state "broke," said there was no room to compromise in his proposed budget and urged the 14 Senate Democrats to return to Madison so debate and action can occur.
The senators left the state Thursday to deprive the Senate of the quorum needed to take up the collective bargaining proposal. They and unions have said workers agree to economic concessions but the governor needs to be open to compromise and stand down on the weakening of basic collective bargaining.
Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the Senate, but need 20 members to vote on spending bills like the budget. The collective bargaining proposals are part of the budget bill.
Demonstrators who slept at the Capitol overnight on Monday were slowly starting to pack up and prepare for another day of protests on Tuesday.
U.S. state and local governments are struggling to balance budgets after the recession decimated their finances. Other states like Texas, Arizona and Ohio are relying mainly on cuts in spending, while Minnesota and Illinois are raising taxes.
Wisconsin's State Assembly is due to take up the collective bargaining rights proposal on Tuesday with extra security in place to handle massive crowds. Democrats expect to offer 100 amendments, Assembly minority leader Peter Barca said.
But Republicans hold a large enough majority in the Assembly to quorum and approve the bill without support of Democrats.
Senate Republicans expect to take up a voter identification bill in committee this week, with or without the Democrats, that could be taken to the Senate floor.
Signs in the Capitol rotunda on Monday called on consumers to boycott corporations that funded Walker's election campaign, including Wal-Mart and Koch Industries.
Public sector workers in West Virginia rallied Monday for better pay and working conditions and expressed support for Wisconsin teachers and public workers.
Michigan labor leaders plan to lobby at the state capital on Tuesday against new Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's proposal to give emergency financial managers broad powers to remove elected officials and break labor contracts as they work to turn around failing schools and cities.
The changes sought by Walker in Wisconsin would make state workers contribute more to health insurance and pensions, end government collection of union dues, let workers opt out of unions and require unions to hold recertification votes every year.
Walker wants the bill passed by Friday as part of a plan to push principal payments on general obligation bonds into future years to save $165 million. Under that plan, the bill must be passed by Friday to allow time to sell the debt.