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February 21st, 2011
Wisconsin Governor Will Do What He Was Voted into Office to Do

Madison, Wis.—As union supporters geared up for their for sixth day of protests at the Wisconsin Capitol, Gov. Scott Walker reiterated Sunday that he wouldn't compromise on the issue that had mobilized them, a bill that would eliminate most of public employees' collective bargaining rights.

Gov. Scott Walker proposed a bill that would close a projected $3.6 billion shortfall by forcing public employees to pay 5.8% of their salary toward their pensions and 12.6% of healthcare premiums, up from 6% on average. On top of that, Mr. Walker aims to cut many of the collective bargaining rights from union members, a move he says will prevent massive layoffs but which union members say will take away a basic human right.

An AFL-CIO spokesman said unions were planning rallies, vigils and lobbying events in 29 states during the coming week, aimed at halting efforts to cut union members' pay and benefits or roll back collective bargaining rights.

Rather than watch the bill pass over their minority votes, 14 Democratic state senators fled Wisconsin on Thursday, bringing the legislative process to a halt and giving time for union backers, including a political organization affiliated with President Barack Obama, to rally support at the statehouse.

Pro-union demonstrators plan another day of protests at Wisconsin's state capital. They're protesting Governor Scott Walker's budget proposal calling for unionized public employees to pay more for pensions and health insurance.
Christina Brey, a spokeswoman with the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's biggest public-sector union with 98,000 members, confirmed that unions are willing to accept the increased contributions to pensions and healthcare but won't give up their bargaining rights without a fight.

"We're on board if these financial contributions need to happen for the budget fix, but we are absolutely opposed to stripping collective bargaining rights in our state," she said.

By Friday night tea party-affiliated organizations were marshalling their own members, and on Saturday morning several thousand counter demonstrators began spilling into Madison carrying signs like "Sorry we're late, we work for a living" and "The gravy train is over."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald reaffirmed Saturday that Republicans are not budging.

"The bill is not negotiable," Mr. Fitzgerald told the Associated Press. "The bill will pass as is."

Mr. Fitzgerald said Republicans have the votes needed to pass the bill just as soon as 14 Senate Democrats return to the Statehouse. Without them, there isn't the required quorum to vote on legislation.

Mr. Walker has repeatedly said he will not negotiate nor will he let the voices of the union protesters drown out the voices of taxpayers beyond statehouse grounds.

Around 10:30 a.m. some of those taxpayers, organized by tea party-affiliated groups, gathered on the statehouse steps. As they did, thousands of union protesters stopped or slowed their marching and stood on the sidewalk, separated by a black, knee-high chain-link fence and a scattering of police officers facing the street.

Each side tried to drown each other out with chants of "Kill the bill!" and "Pass the bill!" until a momentary détente was reached when a tea party speaker led the Pledge of Allegiance which both groups yelled with gusto.

"The state is broke, we all have to cut our expenses," said Lori Leppin, a 41-year-old interior designer who lost her house and moved in with her sister because her business has been so slow. She drove down from Fond du Lac to support Mr. Walker. "I just think these people are so entitled," she said of public employees. "Who do they think is paying for all this?"

"If your child did not learn to read this week, blame a teacher" read one signs. On the other side: "If you can read this sign, thank a teacher."

Talk about a double-edged sword.


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