Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker warned of thousands of layoffs ahead if Democrats which fled to Illinois don't return to vote on a bill which cuts some collective bargaining rights for state workers.
The missing Senate Democrats must know that their failure to come to work will lead to dire consequences very soon, he said in an address to the state on Tuesday.
Failure to act on this budget repair bill means (at least) 15 hundred state employees will be laid off before the end of June. If there is no agreement by July 1st, another 5-6 thousand state workers -- as well as 5-6 thousand local government employees would be also laid off.
Some 14 State Senate Democrats have fled the state to in to delay the legislative process. With not enough Senators, the legislative body does not have a quorum to do business.
Sen. Mark Miller, the leading Democrat in the Senate said on Tuesday in a televised interview that Walker could end the standoff by agreeing to a compromise that would allow state workers to keep collective bargaining rights in all aspects of their contracts, but leave intact a Republican proposal requiring state workers to pay more for their health benefits and pension.
The governor has the tools at his disposal to put this issue to an end, Miller said. As soon as he is willing to take a compromise, we will go back to work in an instant.
Miller said Democrats should not be held responsible if the layoffs go through.
He did not need to precipitate the crisis, Miller said.
The impasse over collective bargaining brought thousands of protesters - mostly against the collective bargaining curtailment - to the state capitol last week.
'Fireside Chat' Address
Walker said Tuesday night that the bill in question is about balancing our budget now - and in the future.
Wisconsin faces a 137 million dollar deficit for the remainder of this fiscal year and a 3.6 billion deficit for the upcoming budget, he said.
A part of the bill would require state workers - except for Fire and Police unions - to make a 5.8 percent contribution to the pension and a 12.6 percent contribution for the health insurance premium.
Walker said the collective bargaining reforms were needed because the system is broken: it costs taxpayers serious money - particularly at the local level.
For years, I tried to use modest changes in pension and health insurance contributions as a means of balancing our budget without massive layoffs or furloughs, he said.
On nearly every occasion, the local unions (empowered by collective bargaining agreements) told me to go ahead and layoff workers. That's not acceptable to me, he added.
He said that locally, many school districts are required to buy health insurance directly through the state teachers union's company, WEA Trust. Under the bill, school districts could opt to switch into a state plan to save $68 million per year.
Walker also ruled out raising taxes on corporations and people with high-incomes.
Instead of raising taxes, we need to control government spending to balance our budget, he said.
He called on Senate Democrats to return to the state and vote on the bill.
Do the job you were elected to do, he said. You don't have to like the outcome, or even vote yes, but as part of the world's greatest democracy, you should be here, in Madison, at the Capitol.