Thousands of state workers and their supporters in Wisconsin have besieged the capitol in Madison to protest against huge budget cuts proposed by Governor Scott Walker.

So many teachers have joined the protest by calling in sick that many classes have been cancelled.

Among other measures, state workers will be required to pay 5.8 percent of their salaries toward their pensions (much higher than they do now) and at least 12.6 percent of their health care premiums (about double their current contribution). Excluding police and firefighters, salary hikes for state workers would be limited to the consumer price index, unless the public agreed to a higher increase through a referendum.

Walker is seeking to pass a “budget repair bill” to help alleviate a $137-million budget shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 30 and to relieve a deficit of more than $3billion over the next two years.

The proposed benefit cuts would save taxpayers about $330 million through mid-2013.

In addition, most state worker unions would be forced to hold annual elections in order to keep their organizations intact and would also lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks.

The bill would also provide the state’s Department of Health Services the power to write rules that would amend laws related to with medical care for children, parents and childless adults; prescription drug plans and nursing home care for the elderly; and long-term care for the elderly and disabled outside of nursing homes.

Walker, a newly-elected Republican, has presented an extremely severe budget that will not only cut the benefits of public employees, but also radically limit their collective bargaining rights.

The governor’s car and his home have even been targeted by protesters.

“I’m trying to balance a budget,” Walker said.

The state legislature (dominated by Republicans) may begin voting on his budget Thursday

In an interview with a local TV station, President Barack Obama said public workers must make concessions, but added that he thought Walker's plans were too harsh on unions.