Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has unveiled a budget slashing aid to schools and local districts, cutting an estimated 12,000 jobs. Critics say the plan would devastate Wisconsin’s public education system. As Gov. Walker spoke, thousands of protesters were being denied entry to the State Capitol despite a court order to open the building to the public. We speak with Mary Bottari of the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy’s Real Economy Project. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: In Madison, Wisconsin, protests continue outside the State Capitol against Republican Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of their collective bargaining rights. On Tuesday, Governor Walker unveiled his two-year budget plan.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Our state 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. We need a leaner and cleaner state government.
AMY GOODMAN: As Governor Walker spoke, thousands of protesters were being denied entry to the State Capitol despite a court order to open the building to the public.
Joining us in Madison — and then we’ll go to Indiana, as well as to Idaho — is Mary Bottari, director of the Center for Media and Democracy’s Real Economy Project.
Describe the scene yesterday, Mary, what happened outside, why people weren’t allowed in. I mean, tens of thousands have been inside the Capitol.
MARY BOTTARI: Tens of thousands have been inside of the Capitol peacefully, now going on over two weeks, in different stages. On Sunday, we had the largest rally in Madison’s history, perhaps the largest rally in U.S. labor history, outside of the Capitol. A hundred thousand to 125,000 people took to the streets. And there were no incidents reported. Protesters anticipated that on Monday morning at 8:00 the Wisconsin Capitol building would be open for business as it always has been, and some of them arrived early in the morning for various activities inside the Capitol — other citizens arrived for regular meetings inside the Capitol — to find the Capitol doors shut and a whole new array of procedures before they could get in. They had to call their legislator. They had to get escorted down. If their legislator didn’t want to see them, they never got into the Capitol building. This was extraordinary in Wisconsin history. We never had anything quite like that.
And after dozens of people were denied access, lawyers went into court and, on Tuesday morning at 9:30 in the morning, got a temporary restraining order opening the Capitol to the public. I stood outside in the freezing cold with a bunch of other people and a growing crowd, waiting to see if anyone would get in, and no one did. The Governor and his staff went back into court, trying to get that restraining order overturned. They wanted to make sure there would be no protesters in the building in advance of his 4:00 hearing. It was a tense standoff all day.
The Sheriff’s Department, the Dane County Sheriff Department, somewhere in the midst of all this, decided to quit the building, and the Sheriff did a press conference saying, "It is not my job to be a palace guard." So, at 4:00, when the Governor did give his budget address, the Governor was still under a court order to open the building, and he defied that court order. He went ahead. He gave his budget address, while thousands and thousands of protesters outside chanted, "Let me in!" Those chants could be heard inside the chambers. It was a very dramatic day.
AMY GOODMAN: Mary Bottari, the fact is, the Governor first tried to give this State of the Budget address not in the State Capitol at all, isn’t that right?
MARY BOTTARI: That’s right. He picked a different location. Some friends of his in Big Business thought they might like to have the budget address right in their backyard. But he — at the end of the day, he decided to go into the Capitol building and the chambers there.
And once you heard the address, you understood why he was afraid of the citizenry. There are major, major budget cuts in this address — $1 billion for states and localities. The most often repeated refrain in the budget address was, "We’re going to give states — we’re going to take away a billion dollars from states and localities — I’m sorry, from localities and school districts. We’re going to take away $1 billion. But we’re also going to give them the tools to deal with this problem." And he repeated that over and over, "the tools to deal with this problem." Well, what are those tools? The tools are the removal of collective bargaining rights for teachers and other municipal and local workers. So, the Governor is basically suborning mayors and localities and school district heads to balance their own budget deficits to achieve cost savings in their own communities on the backs of workers.
AMY GOODMAN: Mary, very quickly, he has continually implored the entire Democratic state senator delegation to return from Illinois. Talk about the state of this. All 14 seats were empty. They are still out of state.
MARY BOTTARI: The state Democrats are still out of state. And this is very hard for them. They have children. They have grandchildren. It’s a tough situation. So we have to continue fighting on other fronts to advance this plan and work in cooperation, to the extent we can, with the 14 Democrats. When they return, if they return, they will be treated as heroes in this battle. And this battle will go on for a while, because now, in addition to the collective bargaining fight, we have all these specific cuts to Medicare, to BadgerCare — it will kick 70,000 people off the rolls of BadgerCare — to the school systems, to, you know, children and families. It’s a very dramatic budget with very dramatic cuts.