Repair bill spurs Madison protests
February 16, 2011
MADISON—State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) wasn’t able to show up at 3 p.m. Tuesday for an appointment that UW-River Falls faculty, staff and students claim was scheduled at her office.
The meeting was supposedly set up Friday as a way for UW-RF and other university representatives, along with the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, to voice concerns about the state’s budget repair bill, said lead organizer of AFT-Wisconsin Julie Schmid.
Minutes before the meeting was to begin, an AFT union organizer said he was told by a Harsdorf staff member that the senator did not have a meeting scheduled.
Schmid then led the group down three flights of stairs to Harsdorf’s office to confront her.
There, a senator’s aide told the group that Harsdorf was in a Joint Finance Committee meeting and reconfirmed that there was never a meeting scheduled, said AFT-Wisconsin Communications Representative Jill Bakken.
Those within the group that Harsdorf’s constituents then delivered handwritten notes with their concerns and complaints.
Several hours later, Harsdorf was not available for comments and her voicemail was full.
On Wednesday morning, a Harsdorf staff member said the senator had been very busy listening to public testimony with the Joint Finance Committee that went from 10 a.m. Tuesday until 3 a.m. Wednesday.
The staffer said Harsdorf was committed to sitting in at the hearing and was honoring everyone who came to speak on behalf of the budget repair bill. The staffer reaffirmed that there was no scheduled 3 p.m. Tuesday meeting at her office.
The comments among UW-RF faculty and staff about why they wished to speak with Harsdorf varied.
Some were more concerned with Gov. Walker’s threat of abolishing collective bargaining rights. Others said they were concerned about suffering from a major cut in take-home pay.
A UW-RF program assistant in the English department, Sheri Fowler, is a constituent of Harsdorf.
Fowler said she was mad Harsdorf reneged on the meeting but delivered a note to a staff member that said, “Please vote no.”
Fowler said that if the budget repair bill is passed, her finances will be hurt.
“There is a wrong assumption that program assistants make lots and lots of money,” she said. “That is just not true. After almost 20 years, I am barely making $16 an hour.
Fowler said that the one of the problem areas with the repair bill is that it doesn’t take into account the vast salary scale of state employees.
“The trouble is (that) the governor lumps all state workers together,” Fowler said. “He lumps us lowly program assistants at UW-RF in with bigwigs that make $65 an hour at the Revenue Department.”
Several UW-RF faculty members said that they intend to talk with Harsdorf about the lack of UW System representation in Madison and how the quality of education would be tarnished if collective bargaining rights were made illegal.
UW-RF English Professor Michelle Parkinson said if the budget repair bill passed, the university would implode because it would be unable to hire good faculty which in turn would harm the quality of education.
Parkinson said she also finds it threatening and disturbing that Gov. Walker aims to revoke collective bargaining rights.
The repair bill, an attempt to reduce the budget deficit of $136.7 million for the current fiscal year, would increase what all state, school district and municipal employees contribute to their pensions.
The amount of money that state employees pay for their heath insurance premiums would also increase by 6%.
According to the bill, the changes within the 2010 state budget will save the state about $30 million in the remaining months of the fiscal year.
Walker stated in the bill that the cuts are needed because Wisconsin’s biennial budget deficit that will grow over the next two years to $3.6 billion.
“The path to long-term financial solvency for our state requires shared sacrifices from everyone,” Walker said.