Walker said the cuts could be paid for in large part by forcing government employees to pay more for their pension and health care benefits. And the governor whose cost-cutting ideas have stirred a national debate over public-sector unions gave no indication he would soften his demand to reduce their power at the negotiating table.
"This is a reform budget," Walker told lawmakers inside the Assembly chamber as protesters on the floor below screamed, banged on drums and blew horns. "It is about getting Wisconsin working again, and to make that happen, we need a balanced budget that works – and an environment where the private sector can create 250,000 jobs over the next four years."
Walker's legislation has drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators to the Capitol over the last three weeks, and tensions were still evident when Walker outlined the budget during a joint session of the Legislature convened under heavy security. Assembly Democrats refused to stand and greet the governor as he arrived to speak.
"It feels like we're announcing a going-out-of-business sale," said state Rep. Cory Mason, a Democrat from Racine who criticized Walker's proposed cuts to education.
Walker's budget places "the entire burden of Wisconsin's budget shortfall on our children, our most vulnerable citizens in need of health care and long-term care, and our dedicated public employees," said Robert Kraig, director of the consumer advocacy group Citizen Action of Wisconsin.
Doing so is Walker's "own value choice, not an economic necessity forced on him by others," Kraig said.
The governor released his two-year budget in part to support his argument that public-worker concessions are essential to confront a projected $3.6 billion shortfall. His proposal to eliminate most collective bargaining remains in limbo after Senate Democrats fled the state to prevent a vote.
Wisconsin "cannot grow if our people are weighed down paying for a larger and larger government, a government that pays its workers unsustainable benefits that are out of line with the private sector," he said. "We need a leaner and cleaner state government."
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