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Some Fear Impact of Changes in Governor's Upcoming Budget

Protests in Madison enter a second week today. Thousands of people are expected in the state’s capital today to continue their protests against a bill that would strip unionized state workers of virtually all of their collective bargaining rights.

WUWM’s Bob Bach was in Madison over the weekend and joins us in the studio this morning with more on the story.

Snowy weather is forecast for Madison today, will the protests continue?

Yes. In fact, the combination of a state furlough day and day off for President’s Day could swell the ranks. Members of the Milwaukee teachers union are bussing to Madison to participate. The head of the state’s largest union however, is calling on educators who don’t have the day off to return to their classrooms. WEAC President Mary Bell it’s time for members to return to work. Still, Madison schools are closed again today.

Bad weather forced protestors to rally inside the Capitol yesterday, but Saturday, there was a massive turnout. What was that like?

I think for anyone who attended, myself included, it was unforgettable. Estimates put the total at 70,000, and for the first time there was a counter protest. Members of the TEA Party, and other people who described themselves to me as "conservatives," rallied on the south steps of the capitol and listened to speakers such as conservative blogger Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit.

“You are doing great work in Wisconsin and the nation is watching. You are doing the hard work of cutting out of control government spending. Thank you for setting an example for the rest of this great nation. Thank you Wisconsin,” Hoft said.

The rally attracted a much smaller crowd than the number of protesters who gathered in Madison all week, but the smaller group was spirited all the same. I spoke with Suzette Lenzen of River Falls. She told me the gathering was a group of everyday folks who are fed up with government in general and people in particular who want more than what she calls their fair share.

“We work every darn day and they take more and more of our money at the end of the year and we are sick of it,” Lenzen said.

Bob, how long did that counter rally last on Saturday?

It ended about 230pm Ann Elise, but the larger protest continued into the evening. As the Tea Party group gathered on the south lawn of the Capitol, thousands of marchers of slowly circled the statehouse, breaking into spontaneous chants. I fell in with that slowly moving circle for a time so I could with Jeff Kingstead of Minocqua. His comments and others I heard from the main body of protesters Ann Elise may point to where this issue is heading. For instance, Kingstead said he is solidarity with public workers who may lose collective bargaining rights, but he is also concerned about impacts from Governor Scott Walker’s upcoming budget. The Governor is expected to announce big cuts in safety net programming such as Medicaid funding, and Kingstead is worried.

“My family’s healthy but Badger Care for instance is something that kids should have a right to. And, it sounds to me that just a lot of that would be just erased, so there’s just got to be another way to do it,” Kingstead said.

I also spoke with Amy Olson. She’s a teacher in Green Bay. Olson thinks that when the Governor announces cuts in education spending as part of his upcoming budget address, fallout from the changes will include higher class sizes, up to 40 students in a classroom for instance, and such changes will send Wisconsin in the wrong direction.

“They’re worried about us staying ahead of everybody, there’s no way we’re going to stay ahead of everybody. That’s too bad, because Wisconsin is one of the top education states in the United States and we’re going down fast,” Olson said.

What about a solution to the issue Bob, how did people you talked to feel about how all of this might end?

It's notable Ann Elise. When I asked people how they would like to see this end, or even what they would consider, a healthy conclusion, they were almost speechless. No one seemed to have an answer to that question except to say that they hoped some compromise would be struck, sooner than later.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.