By David Bailey
February 28, 2011
(Reuters) – Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker said on Monday that absent senate Democrats have 24 hours to return and vote on a measure to reduce the power of public sector unions or the state will miss out on opportunity to refinance its debt.
“Now they have one day to return to work before the state loses out on the chance to refinance debt, saving taxpayers $165 million this fiscal year,” Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie said in a statement.
“Failure to return to work and cast their votes will lead to more painful and aggressive spending cuts in the very near future,” the statement said.
Walker’s budget proposal has sparked nationwide protests from labor unions who fear it could be a harbinger of things to come in other states. To balance the state’s budget, Walker wants to require public sector employees to pay more for pensions and health care, and to strip their unions of bargaining rights except for wages up to the rate of inflation.
The measure has passed the state Assembly but is stalled in the Senate because the 14 Democrats have fled the state to avoid a vote.
Under Walker’s proposal, Wisconsin’s general obligation bonds would be restructured and that would push debt service payments due by March 15 into future years to save the current state budget $165 million. The deadline is because it takes a couple of weeks for the state to prepare to go to the bond market and implement the refinancing before the payment is due on March 15.
In a separate interview broadcast on Sunday, Walker said he hoped to delay sending layoff notices to state workers if the legislature makes progress on fixing the budget deficit, according to website wispolitics.com.
“It’s not just a number. It’s not just a budget,” Walker said, on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” a statewide TV news magazine. “It’s ultimately a real person with a real family, so I’m going to push that back as far as I can.”
But to postpone the layoffs, Walker said that it will be necessary that his budget repair bill, including the move to end collective bargaining, go into effect by April 1.
Walker also said that he would propose a new budget on Tuesday that cuts $1 billion to state aid for schools and local governments.
There has been speculation that Walker would send out layoff notices to more than 1,000 state workers if no progress was made soon on the budget.
(Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by Greg McCune)