Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has followed through on a vow to issue layoff warning notices to hundreds of state workers, as part of an overall strategy to ensure passage of legislation that he and his fellow Republicans consider vital to the financial well-being of their state in the wake of a recent report setting the budget deficit at $3.6 billion. (Unlike the federal government, which has the unique ability to avoid such situations, state governments must actively work deficits, as required by law.)
Democrats, meanwhile, oppose the legislation, along with the state's major unions, some of whom were the recipient of communication from Walker's office, which was quick to point out that the notices stated the layoffs were imminent, not that they had occurred.
The Wisconsin lower house has passed the legislation already, but the Senate cannot vote on the matter because the Republican majority lacks a quorum the number of members needed to be present in order to have a vote. The Democratic Party is represented in the Wisconsin Senate by 14 people, all of whom have refrained from appearing in the statehouse for nearly three weeks, despite threats of $100-a-day fines and a well-publicized attempt by state troopers to bring them back forcefully.
The Democratic Senators seem quite happy to remain in nearby Chicago, while Walker and his fellow Republicans enact more and more measures to attempt to convince them to return to what will certainly be legislation that Walker will sign. Among the provisions is one that requires state workers to pay more of their own pensions and benefits packages. The most contentious part of the package, however, is the stark reduction in collective bargaining power for the state's labor unions.
The maneuvering has drawn national attention, not the least because of the size of the pro-union protests in and around the statehouse. The largest crowd numbered some 70,000, the largest crowd in one place for one purpose in the state since the Vietnam War.