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There may be an end in sight to the nearly three week standoff in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker, previously resolute in his determination to not budge, is now proposing a compromise with the 14 Democratic state senators who fled the state in order to prevent a budget repair bill from passing the senate. The bill would have limited collected bargaining rights for public employees and caused outrage throughout the nation.
In e-mails released by Walker’s office on Tuesday, Walker has suggested a compromise that would allow workers to continue bargaining over their salaries with no limit, a change from his original plan that banned negotiated salary increases beyond inflation. He also proposed compromises allowing collective bargaining to stay in place on mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay and classroom size for teachers. However, the increased contributions for health insurance and pension, which would save the state $330 million by mid-2013, would remain. The unions and Democrats have agreed to those concessions to help balance a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
Sen. Bob Jauch, one of the 14 AWOL Democrats, was hopeful that the compromise would be a starting point for future negotiations. He and Sen. Cullen, both working with the administration, maintain that the latest offer is inadequate. The e-mails reveal that Jauch also wanted sick leave and vacation pay to remain items that could be bargained over. “I consider the lines of communication still open,” Cullen said Tuesday. “Whether there’s going to be any communicating, remains to be seen. These things ebb and flow.”
Walker has repeatedly stated he would not budge on his bill that has been stuck in the senate for 19 days since the Democrats left the state. Since that time, protesters have gathered in the capital daily—some camping out. The numbers have swelled as large as 80,000, as teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other union workers were joined by family and friends to express their outrage. Polls have also consistently shown that people support collective bargaining and want a compromise. Recall efforts have also been launched against 16 senators, including eight Republicans.
Senate Republicans spent hours going over the compromise plan Tuesday morning in a closed-door meeting, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said. He acknowledged that pressure was increasing on the senators, saying the recall efforts launched against eight Republicans was “on everybody’s minds.”
“Everybody’s obviously receiving a lot of pressure,” Fitzgerald said. “I had people on my front porch before I left this morning.” He didn’t say whether Senate Republicans agreed with the concessions Walker proposed on Sunday said support for the underlying bill remained strong. “We’re rock solid, we’re fine,” he said.