Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker gave an ultimatum to Senate Democrats who fled to Illinois to delay a bill curbing collective bargaining for public employees: Come back or cost the state $165 million in bond refinancing.
The 14 senators “have one day to return to work before the state loses out on the chance to refinance debt,” Walker’s office said today in an e-mailed statement. “Failure to return to work and cast their votes will lead to more painful and aggressive spending cuts in the very near future. This is the Senate Democrats’ 24-hour notice.”
The debt restructuring is part of a bill that would increase the amount government employees except police and firefighters pay toward their health-care premiums and pension contributions. The state faces a projected $137 million deficit this fiscal year and a $3.6 billion gap in the next biennium, Walker has said.
The option to refinance the debt will be “off the table,” the statement said, citing the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Madison, the Wisconsin capital, is the focus of protests against Republican-led efforts in states including Ohio to cut benefits and bargaining power for public employees.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled Assembly just after 1 a.m. on Feb. 25 after a marathon session lasting more than 60 hours. It awaits a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, which needs just one Democratic senator to return to hold a vote.
Unions have agreed to accept the increased costs for the members if Walker drops the limits on collective bargaining, Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller of Monona, one of the Democrats who left the state, said last week by telephone from an Illinois location he wouldn’t disclose.
Calls to the offices of Miller; Senator Robert Wirch, a Democrat from Pleasant Prairie; and Representative Peter Barca, the Assembly minority leader and a Democrat from Kenosha, weren’t immediately returned.