10/18/07

Unionized state workers shout down taxpayers

At a raucous rally just outside Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle's office Wednesday, roughly 800 state workers and others tried to shout down about 350 anti-tax advocates who praised Republicans for blocking a budget that includes tax hikes.

Carrying signs and chanting "Pay your share!" state workers, including many uniformed law enforcement officers and firefighters, tried to drown out the rally organized by the national anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity.

Retaliating with chants of "No new taxes!" those at the rally blamed Doyle for the ongoing stalemate that has left Wisconsin as the only state in the country without a new budget. Doyle's budget proposal includes more than $1 billion in tax increases.

Police separated the two groups with yellow tape. The anti-tax crowd faced the Capitol, while their opponents surrounded them on both sides. They blew air horns, yelled through megaphones and screamed in an attempt to drown out the anti-tax group's booming amplification system.

Before the speeches, the anti-tax protesters played audio clips of Doyle's 2003 promise not to raise taxes. "We hope the general population of the state will wake up to the fact they're being hoodwinked," said 86-year-old Betty Bunnelle of East Troy, Wis. Her husband held a sign that said, "No to Doyle Tax Increases."

A spokesman for Doyle did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Speakers at the rally egged on their supporters and needled the state workers.

"I see that government can function perfectly well without these people on the job," said Owen Robinson, a blogger who runs the Boots and Sabers Web site.

Robinson had asked lawmakers earlier this year to sign a pledge not to support tax increases. He got 10 Republicans and one Democrat to sign. Since then, 15 other Republicans and one Democrat have signed an anti-tax pledge by Americans for Prosperity, a three-year-old group that recently held a summit in Washington, D.C., that attracted all the major Republican candidates for president.

Democrats have pointed to those pledges as one reason for the budget stalemate. The Republican-controlled Assembly on Monday rejected Doyle's latest budget proposal, the second he has offered this year.

While current funding and taxing continues during the logjam, Doyle warned Tuesday that without a new budget and more money to cover expenses he may have to order a partial government shut down.

About 600 state prison inmates currently housed in jails under contracts with 15 Wisconsin counties will be removed starting in December to help save money, Department of Corrections Secretary Rick Raemisch told counties in a letter released Wednesday. How to accommodate those prisoners in already overcrowded state prisons is being examined, Raemisch said.

Many of the signs at the rally referred to the possible shut down, including one held by a Department of Corrections worker that said, "Let the Inmates Come Sleep at Your House." A little girl held a sign saying, "Help Protect Me From a Sexual Predator. Pass the Budget."

Without a new budget, there will not be funding for a new law requiring sexual predators to be tracked with GPS technology.

"Failure to act will mean real cuts that affect real people and cause real pain," said Marty Beil, director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. Beil helped organize the demonstration led by the state AFL-CIO and public employees' union AFSCME.

Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus said at the rally that Republicans have gained support as a result of Democrats' tax increase proposals.

"We are not extreme because we ask for tax relief," Priebus said. "The Democrats are extreme for wanting to increase state spending."

Doyle, and the Democratic-led Senate, want to increase cigarette taxes by $1.25 per pack, impose a new tax on hospitals to generate more federal money for treating Medicaid patients, and transfer $175 million out of a fund used to pay malpractice claims.

Republicans oppose the hospital tax and want just a 75-cent cigarette tax.

Those two issues are the largest remaining obstacles to reaching a deal, both Republican and Democratic leaders have said.

Department of Corrections worker Gordon Ovans of Red Granite, Wis., wore his blue work uniform and held a sign that told lawmakers to "Do Your Job." But after the rhetoric-filled rally, Ovans called for a more sensible approach to ending the budget stalemate.

"If there was a little bit of conversation between individuals, then we'd get it done," he said.

On the Net: Americans for Prosperity: http://www.americansforprosperity.org/

(rhinelanderdailynews.com)

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