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Wisconsin governor proposes austerity measures to balance budget

Gov. Scott Walker's spending plan for the next two years would cut more than $1 billion from public schools, the University of Wisconsin system and city and county governments.

March 01, 2011|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Madison, Wis. — As hundreds of protesters clamored to be allowed into a locked-down Capitol, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker outlined a plan that would balance the state's budget by cutting heavily from schools and local governments.

The spending plan released Tuesday for the next two years follows Walker's budget repair bill for the current fiscal year that would severely curtail collective bargaining rights for most of the state's public employees. The governor said the clampdown on unions would be necessary to give local governments the means to deal with cuts in state aid in his proposed budget.

"The facts are clear: Wisconsin is broke, and it's time to start paying our bills today, so our kids are not stuck with even bigger bills tomorrow," Walker said.

The initial budget measure has spurred massive protests, including a two-week occupation of the state Capitol by activists, and has led all 14 Democratic senators to flee the state to deny the Senate a quorum to act on the bill. It has also set off recall campaigns against Walker, the missing Democrats and state Senate Republicans.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he met with several of the missing Democrats on Monday in Kenosha, Wis., near the Illinois border, but they reached no deal.

The governor's budget proposal called for more than $1 billion in cuts to public schools, the University of Wisconsin system and to cities and counties, while limiting their ability to raise property taxes. Democrats decried the austerity measures as a "decimation" of the education system.

Beginning Monday, Capitol officials allowed only limited access to the building. On Tuesday, a judge ordered the Capitol reopened to the public, but the situation remained unchanged throughout the day, with Capitol officials saying their efforts to limit access were constitutional.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, an estimated 8,500 union supporters turned out at the statehouse to protest a bill that would limit collective bargaining for state workers to wages and prohibit public employees from striking.

And in Indiana, 37 Democratic state House members remained missing in action, having fled to Illinois to stop a slate of Republican-backed bills that would, among other things, roll back collective bargaining for state government workers.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

Times staff writers Nicholas Riccardi in Denver and Richard Simon in Washington contributed to this report.

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