In a Newsmax interview, determined Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker began the legal notification process that could lead to 1,500 state employees losing their jobs in April. He also said that President Barack Obama should stay out of his state’s fiscal crisis and instead ought to focus on “the much, much graver budget crisis we have in our nation’s capital, which he’s failed to lead on.”The GOP governor said the jobs will be saved, however, if at least one of 14 AWOL Democratic state senators return to the state next week, which would allow the Wisconsin Senate the quorum it needs to pass Walker’s “budget repair bill.”
Wisconsin has been mired in weeks now as thousands of union members, many of them bused in from neighboring states, march to protest the fiscal austerity measures that Walker maintains are necessary to rein in a $3.6 billion deficit. Among his proposals are limitations on unions’ ability to conduct collective bargaining, which would be limited to negotiating salaries. Unions would have no say in how much their members pay for pension and health benefits.
Obama warned governors earlier this week that they should not “denigrate or vilify” state and local workers.
Asked if Obama should interject himself in the labor battle that has seen tens of thousands of protesters descend on the Wisconsin state capitol building, Walker replies: “No he shouldn’t, for a couple reasons. One, we’re doing this to balance our budget, and the president of the United States should be focused on the much, much graver budget crisis we have in our nation’s capital, which he’s failed to lead on.
“Secondly, the president really has no position talking about this, because what we’re asking for here is still more generous than what federal employees get. I think many people do not recognize — I certainly hope the president was aware of it — the fact that the federal employees do not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits.
“And in fact the average federal employee pays twice as much for their health insurance premiums as what we’re proposing in our budget repair bill,” Walker says. “So the reality is, it’s really quite ironic that the president would be criticizing us for something that is less restrictive, when it comes to collective bargaining, and less expensive, when it comes to healthcare, than what we are proposing here in the state of Wisconsin.”
Walker tells Newsmax.TV that on Friday his administration sent out notifications to unions, as required legally, that some 1,500 workers may be laid off.
“And in the next two weeks our departments all throughout the state agencies in Wisconsin government will be laying out the specifics as to which individuals,” Walker says. “And they’ll individually get their notices. But right now, we’ve started the first step to legally notify the unions of our intention to lay 1,500 people off who work for state government effective the first week in April.”
The good news, according to Walker, is that those layoffs can still be avoided. He tells Newsmax that Wisconsin can save $30 million in the current fiscal year that ends June 30, if public employees begin to pay the “very modest pension contributions” that are called for in his budget-repair bill.
Not saving the $30 million, he said, would be “the equivalent of 1,500 layoffs starting the beginning of April.”
Walker tells Newsmax that state officials have been in close contact with “more reasonable senators” in the Democratic caucus whom he believes he can persuaded to return to the state.
“I think now those reasonable senators realize that [the prospect of layoffs] was not a threat, that was just a reality, that may be exactly what they need to justify coming back,” Walker says.
Fourteen Democrats left Wisconsin two weeks ago because by denying Republicans a quorum, they could delay a vote on Walker’s budget bill.
If those senators return next week and the budget bill is passed, Walker tells Newsmax, the layoffs can be averted.
On Thursday, the Wisconsin senate ratcheted up the pressure on the senators holed up in Illinois. It passed a resolution authorizing police to take the missing senators into custody and deliver them to the senate floor, if they are found inside Wisconsin. It declared the missing legislators are “in contempt and disorderly behavior.”
“We’re hoping at some point,” Walker says, “rather than sticking together as a party, they decided to put their state and their constituents first, and not their party.”
Walker tells Newsmax he is “cautiously optimistic” that the missing Democrats who have fled to neighboring Illinois will return to their duties next week.
He says he has toured the 14 missing Democratic senators’ districts “to make the case with their constituents that no matter where they stand on our bill, they have a moral and legal obligation to come back to the capital and vote. I think after today’s notice of 1,500 layoffs, combined with the legal action of the state senate yesterday. It’s my hope that over the weekend some sanity will return down there, and they’ll be ready to come back to the Senate early next week.
Walker also says that he has tried not to make the impasse in Wisconsin personal.
“We haven’t lashed out at opponents. We haven’t personalized this debate,” Walker says.
He adds that despite the raucous demonstrations against his plans to put Wisconsin’s fiscal house in order, he remains confident that he’s pursuing the course of action that is best for the people of Wisconsin.
“The more I get out of the capital the better I feel about this,” Walker tells Newsmax. “I pointed out since Day One I’m not going to allow their loud voices to overpower the voices of the millions and millions of hardworking taxpayers.”