Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) just held a press conference at the Wisconsin State Capitol, laying down the gauntlet against the massive protests and labor union activity opposing his state budget proposal — which in addition to requiring greater contributions from public employees to their benefits packages, would also strip public employees of most collective bargaining rights.
Wisconsin is currently in a political crisis, with the minority state Senate Democrats having left the state in order to block the three-fifths quorum necessary to pass the budget. In addition, many schools have closed across the state, due to teachers calling in sick in large numbers.
“First off I want to begin, certainly acknowledging the thousands of people who are outside protesting, many of whom are from the state of Wisconsin —many more lately have been coming in from other parts across the country — certainly acknowledge their right to be heard,” said Walker.
“But I particularly want to thank the 300,000-plus state and local workers from across Wisconsin, who unlike those here today didn’t skip out on work, showed up for their jobs, did their jobs the way that they have done in the past and will do int he future, and that is be good, professional public servants. And we appreciate the work that they continue to do.
“Certainly again, as I mentioned the folks outside have a right to be heard. But there’s five and half million people in this state — and certainly the taxpayers in this state have every right to be heard. We’re not gonna allow for one minute the protestors to feel like they can drown out the voices of those millions of taxpayers all across the state of Wisconsin. What we’re asking for today and what we continue to be pushing for in this Capitol, is bold when it comes to politics — it’s a bold political move. But any time you challenge the status quo, it’s gonna be bold. But it is a very modest request of our government workers all across this state.”
Walker said he had spoken to working people around the state, who would love to have the benefits package that the state workers would still have under his proposals. He then attacked the union leaders — for not having wanted to ever negotiate with him, and saying that to do so now would take too long against the need to balance the budget.
“I’ve now heard after several days in, that some union leaders at the state level — the same unions that tried to cram through a series of employee contracts in December after the election, before I was sworn in — who had no interest in talking to us then about negotiating, but wanted to get that pushed through while they still had the previous majorities in place, and fortunately for the taxpayers of this state they failed to do so, now suddenly are talking about being interested in negotiating.
“Again, we don’t have any money. We can’t make a good faith effort to negotiate when we don’t have any money. But more important than that, the fact at the state level, in the past decade, the average amount of time for a contract negotiation has taken 15 months.”
During the question and answer session, Walker was asked whether it was necessary to not just put through the changes in the benefits packages, but to further remove the collective bargaining process. Walker cited his own experience as a county executive.
“The bottom line is, and again as a local government official I can tell you, if you’re gonna see major cuts in aid to local governments, which is exactly what’s gonna come and what I’ve said is gonna come for some time, and what nearly every other governor across the country is doing, the only way I can ensure to the public in this state is that those cuts aren’t gonna lead to massive layoffs of teachers, city, county, local government workers, major cuts in core services at the local level, is if those local governments have the authority to set their pension and benefit levels the way we’re outlining in this bill. If you have collective bargaining agreements in place, there’s no guarantee that any of those savings will be materialized.”
Walker was also asked about comments by President Obama, who said that fiscal austerity was necessary but that Walker’s proposal “seems like more of an assault on unions,” and reports of involvement in the demonstrations by Organizing For America and the national Democratic Party.
Walker fired back: “I think the President of the United States has his hands full balancing the federal budget deficit. They have big problems there. He should stick to balancing the federal budget.”