Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker defended a new law curbing most collective-bargaining rights for public employees as “good for the middle class” against a backdrop of boos and chants of “shame” from protesters.
Walker, a 43-year-old Republican, said today he hopes to “inspire others to stand up and make the tough decisions” to control government spending.
He spoke during a ceremonial bill-signing at the Capitol in Madison. Several hours earlier he approved the law that requires annual recertification votes for public-sector union representation and makes dues voluntary. State workers will contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward pensions and pay 12.6 percent of their health-insurance costs. The law exempts police and firefighters.
The measure incited protests across the U.S. and sparked debate about public-worker concessions as states face combined deficits of more than $100 billion next fiscal year.
Walker, elected with 52 percent of the vote in November, said he hasn’t been fazed by weeks of demonstrations, saying “they have every right to be heard.”
“The countless numbers of taxpayers and millions and millions of people who live in this state, the middle-class taxpayers of this state, also have a right to be heard,” Walker said in a news conference. “They’re the ones who have had to pay the higher taxes and the higher burden of excessive government.”
Hundreds of protesters gathered inside the Capitol, filling stairways, hallways and bridges leading to the governor’s gallery, booing and chanting “Recall Walker.”
Walker signed the bill less than 24 hours after the state Assembly gave final approval, capping three weeks of protests at the Capitol. He also rescinded a warning to unions that he would fire 1,500 state workers, according to a news release. The governor said the bill’s passage ended the need to cut the workforce.
Democrats and organized labor called the bill an attack on workers and plan a rally outside the Capitol tomorrow.
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