Wisconsin budget cut protests, union reactions, news and analysis

Demonstrators at the Capitol building in Madison are protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's legislation to cut public employees' benefits and eliminate most of their collective bargaining rights.
Compiled by Justin Bank
Washington Post staff
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 4:59 PM

In Wisconsin protests against state budget cuts have continued as Democratic lawmakers remain away from capitol:

Wisconsin's 14 Senate Democrats were absent again on Tuesday, as Republicans tried to lure them back to the capitol by scheduling a vote on another bill that the Democrats want to kill.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, had threatened to push forward a committee vote on a bill that would require voters to show ID - a measure that Democrats have fought for years because they argued it could make it more difficult for minorities and the elderly to vote.

Fitzgerald said that in the Democrats' absence, the remaining legislators had no choice but to go forward with business as usual. Even though the Democrats "are not here to represent their constituents," he said, "we're here to work."

Thousands have converged on the state Capitol over the past week to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget plan, which would strip most public employees of collective-bargaining rights. The conflict could escalate in the coming days. Walker issued a warning to state employees Monday that they could receive layoff notices as early as next week if there's no agreement to his plan to roll back benefits for public workers to make up for budget shortfalls.

Greg Sargent examines a labor ad airing in Wisconsin:

The ad is intended as a pointed rebuke to Governor Walker's apparent effort to divide public workers by exempting those more favorable to Republicans while targeting those who tend to support Democrats. It's another mark that national unions are all-in on this fight, and that they view Wisconsin as ground zero in the war over the future of all of organized labor. In that sense, the ad's closing line -- "we stand together, or we fall together" -- is freighted with more meaning than it first appears.

Jennifer Rubin opines that the unions fighting the cuts are disconnected from the public:

Is it any wonder that even private-sector union members have had it with their public union comrades?

Last night I spoke with Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute who heads the Center for Employment Policy. She explained that the extent of the unfunded liabilities is huge, but actually uncertain. She told me, "Unfunded pension liabilities are estimated at $2 trillion or $3 trillion. But no one really knows because pensions depend on salaries at retirement and numbers of public sector workers. Both can change." Moreover, she observed that the problem isn't simply the extent of the liabilities, but what it means for residents whose taxes are going up and whose services are being pared back to pay for extraordinary benefits and salaries for public employee unions.

Ezra Klein gives his opinion on how the workers of Wisconsin are "getting stiffed:"

The deal Wisconsin made with its state employees was simple: Accept lower wages than you could get in the private sector now in return for better pensions and health-care benefits when you retire. Now Walker wants to renege on that deal.

Rather than stiff the banks, in other words, he wants to stiff the teachers - but the crucial twist he's added, the one that's sent tens of thousands of workers into the streets, is that he wants to make sure they can't fight back once he does it.

The reason you can't stiff bondholders is that they can make a state or country regret reneging on the deals they've made. They can increase borrowing costs far into the future, slowing economic growth and, through the resulting economic pain, throwing politicians out of office. That gives them power. An ordinary teacher does not have access to such artillery. Unless, of course, she's part of a union.

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