Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Monday rejected the offer of a personal meeting with Democratic senators who had fled the state, a move that extends the political standoff sparked by the governor’s desire to limit collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
In a televised news conference, Walker threw cold water on an offer from Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller to meet near the border and work out their differences. Walker argued that Miller had been a barrier to past talks on resolving Wisconsin’s legislative impasse.
“Sen. Miller is misleading the public just like he misled us,” said Walker, who added that he had sent two staffers to meet with Democrats on Sunday but could not reach an agreement that would bring the 14 senators back from Illinois. “For us to move forward, we need reasonable and responsible officials,” the governor said. “This letter is absolutely ridiculous. He [Miller] is the person standing in the way.”
In a letter hand-delivered earlier to Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Miller offered a personal meeting to discuss the governor’s proposals that would increase the contribution paid by public employees for healthcare and pension benefits. The unions have said they can live with the payments because of the state’s economic peril, but they have rejected Walker’s other proposal to curb collective bargaining rights for most employees.
“I assure you that Democratic state senators, despite our differences and the vigorous debate we have had, remain ready and willing to find a reasonable compromise,” Miller wrote. “To that end, I would ask that you or your authorized representatives agree to meet with us near the Wisconsin-Illinois border to formally resume serious discussions as soon as possible.”
The Assembly on Feb. 25 passed Walker’s plans, but Senate consideration was stalled when all 14 Democrats left the state on Feb. 17, preventing a quorum. Republicans have a 19-14 majority in the Senate, which would likely pass the bills if it can gain a quorum.
Protests over Walker’s proposed measures have sparked demonstrations that have drawn tens of thousands of unionists in recent weeks, stalling legislative action and prompting calls for recall elections. Walker sent formal notices to the unions last week, saying they can expect layoffs.
“We all want to resolve this,” state Sen. Jon Erpenbach said Monday morning on MSNBC. “We want to get back to Madison, have a voice and get on with our lives.
“We’re going to continue to reach out,” Erpenbach said. “The governor didn’t need to send out layoff notices. He knows it, and we know it.”