National

Wis. governor's budget cuts $1.5 billion

MADISON, Wis. —After focusing for weeks on his proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday presented his full budget — a plan that cuts $1.5 billion in aid to public schools, local government and Medicaid but avoids any tax or fee increases, furloughs or widespread layoffs.

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 high as Walker outlined the budget during a joint session of the Legislature convened under heavy security. Assembly Democrats refused to stand as the governor arrived to speak.

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.

The governor released his two-year spending plan in part to support his argument that public-worker concessions are essential to confront a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall. His proposal to eliminate most collective bargaining remains in limbo after Senate Democrats fled the state to prevent a vote.

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