CHICAGO — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, facing a union effort to recall him from office, said Thursday that he will use Illinois’ tax increase and continued deficit as a defense for actions that included eliminating most collective bargaining rights for public workers.
The Republican governor, who appeared before about 300 people at a public policy breakfast at Chicago’s Union League Club, saw his speech interrupted by union-backed Occupy Chicago protesters for about six minutes before they left the event.
About 50 people who purchased tickets to the breakfast began chanting minutes into Walker’s remarks, reciting slogans such as “Union busting. It’s disgusting.” And “We are the 99 percent.” They also criticized Walker for being allowed free speech rights while blaming Mayor Rahm Emanuel for Chicago police arrests of 300 protesters who refused to leave Grant Park after an 11 p.m. curfew.
After the protesters left, Walker said, “The bottom line is, no matter how loud you shout, the facts are the facts. The facts are that our reforms have worked and continue to work in the state of Wisconsin.”
An additional 30 protesters chanted and waved signs to greet attendees outside the club’s two street entrances.
Public employee unions led the unsuccessful recall effort this summer to defeat enough Republican state senators who backed Walker’s curbs on collective bargaining to put the Wisconsin Senate in Democratic control. But the unions are organizing an effort to recall Walker, who was elected a year ago.
Contending many of the protesters who rocked Wisconsin’s capitol in Madison over union rights came from Illinois and other states, Walker said he looked forward to them again traveling to the state to circulate petitions for his recall.
“I open the door to that. I’d love to have that debate. Because for two months while people are circulating, then I’m going to tell the people of Wisconsin how our reforms are working. And, with all due respect to the people of Illinois, I’m going to use Illinois as a good example,” Walker said. He said Wisconsin could either continue to move forward and create jobs, “or, we can go down the path that we see down in Springfield, where in our view that would be going backward.”
Walker has frequently sought to capitalize on Illinois’ increase in personal income and corporate taxes to try to lure businesses to locate in Wisconsin. “There’s a failure in Springfield to make tough decisions,” Walker said, noting that despite higher taxes, Illinois remains mired in a backlog of debt and has a severely underfunded pension system for public workers.
“Instead of producing a balanced budget, you have a multibillion dollar budget deficit. You’ve got folks in Springfield talking about laying off thousands of public employees, talking about closing down numerous state facilities — all because they failed to make the tough decisions,” Walker said.
“Ironically, for all the hype and for all the protests, we didn’t have any massive layoffs. We protected middle-class jobs. We protected middle-class property taxpayers because we said we were going to make structural changes that make Wisconsin a better place to live in, to grow and to invest and have jobs in,” he said.
Walker said he wouldn’t dispute chants from protesters that he was trying to help corporations.
“I don’t hide from that. You don’t need to chant that. I’ll say it right here. I’ll chant it right here — you bring your manufacturing jobs to Wisconsin, I’m going to give you a tax break to inspire you to add more manufacturing jobs and to add more agricultural-based jobs in Wisconsin. I want those jobs,” he said.
Walker also said he would like to see federal government return to an emphasis on state’s rights.
“The federal government has really, in many ways, arguably, in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution, overreached its authority,” Walker said, contending the founding fathers believed in “a government that didn’t collect power but returned power to the people.”
Rather than change the Constitution, he said, “It’s just something where, again, we need men and women of courage, both in our states but definitely in our federal government, to say that’s not the way the government was designed.”