Hundreds of Wisconsin's public sector workers crammed into the cafeteria at Middleton High School Sunday afternoon to vehemently speak out against Gov. Scott Walker's latest budget proposals.
Teachers and other state workers gathered to express their feelings about Walker's plans to strip state unions of their bargaining power as part of an effort to mend Wisconsin's budget woes.
"I'm not intimidated by the National Guard," said Middleton-Cross Plains district teacher Mark Voss to strong applause. "I know my fellow teachers aren't either."
Voss' statement was indicative of the mood of the room as the workers criticized the governor's plan to reduce public employees' bargaining rights to wage only. While Walker has said his plan will save the state millions, others say it's a plan that will send many to the poorhouse. Besides taking away negotiation rights, the plan would force workers to pay more toward their pensions and insurance premiums.
On Sunday, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said that though it has been more than four decades since the last municipal employee strike, if the bill passes it may be some workers' only choice.
Meanwhile, at the Middleton High School listening session, the rage aimed at Walker grew intense as comments about his budget repair bill went from inflammatory to incendiary.
"Democracy is messy. Dictatorship is easy," said listening session attendee Bill Delaney. "We do not intend to have a dictatorship."
"And I dare the National Guard to drive the buses and repair the buses, and diaper the people in the centers," said former state employee Ruth Gundlach.
Walker has threatened to call in the state's National Guard if his proposals lead to any disruption in state services.
With anger over the proposed plan to slice the bulk of collective bargaining rights from public employees intensifying, the AFL-CIO hit radio and TV airwaves across the state with a new ad campaign against Walker's ideas.
"After 50 years of managers and workers solving problems together," the ad states, "there's now a move underway in Madison to take away the rights of thousands of teachers, nurses, and other trusted public employees."
Some at the listening session wondered aloud what was really behind Walker's proposals.
"Much of the bill is not about saving money for the state," said state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale, "but about crippling unions and their ability to have a voice in the workplace, and thus, the middle class."
Republican lawmakers state that their goals are to make up for a $137 million budget gap, and that these painful steps are better than the alternatives.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder said, "No one's going to be laid off, no one is losing their job, and if we don't do this we're going to have nearly 200,000 kids who are going to be kicked off Badger Care, and massive layoffs."
On Friday, the Wisconsin Club for Growth started running an ad in favor of the legislation.
"State workers haven't had to sacrifice, they pay next to nothing for their pensions, and a fraction of their healthcare. It's not fair," the ad states.
To those that say the bill is being pushed through ? a vote is set for this week ? with little time for debate, Rep. Suder defends the aggressive timeline of the legislation.
"We don't have time to negotiate," said Rep. Suder. "The average contract takes 15 months to negotiate. We don't have that time, we?ve got to pay the bills."
Some say that lawmakers' ways of paying their bills are going to keep public employees from being able to pay theirs.
"Gov. Walker says that Wisconsin is open for business," said teacher Mark Voss. "I see Wisconsin as closed to the middle class."
With his budget address set for Feb. 22, Walker is hopeful the bill will move through the legislature this week. With a wide Republican margin in the state Assembly, passage is expected to be relatively easy.
In the state Senate, however, where the Republicans'; margin of power is far smaller, there could be obstacles as powerful Democrats are actively recruiting Republican support.
The Joint Finance Committee is expected to schedule a public hearing for Tuesday, with a vote possible for Wednesday.
The bill could hit the Assembly floor by Thursday.