(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Thousands of public workers marched in Wisconsin's capital before a legislative vote Thursday on whether to slash public worker pensions and curb collective bargaining rights of unions.
"There are thousands of people here -- 20,000 at least!" said Scott Favour, a Madison, Wisconson, police officer, describing the crowd that surged around Gov. Scott Walker's office Wednesday.
Officer Favour, himself a protester, was taking the day off to express his opposition to the governor's so-called budget repair bill, which would close a state shortfall of some $3.6 billion in part by asking public employees to pay a greater share of their pension and health insurance costs. The bill would also curb collective bargaining rights and make it tougher for public employee unions to operate.
Alexandra Nieves, 35, another police officer, says the bill "is upsetting." The governor's take-back on pensions and health insurance was something she never anticipated when she joined the force three years ago. Still, it's his proposal to curb collective bargaining that disturbs her most.
"What have we fought for all these years?" she asked angrily. "It's like telling a woman you can't vote -- that you should take off your shoes and go back to the kitchen."
The governor, asked by ABC News if he was surprised by the size of the turnout, said, "No, not at all. When you do something bold, you'll get a reaction."
The governor had telegraphed his intentions even before he assumed office. In a speech last December he had declared, "We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots."
His bill now asks state workers to pay 5.8 percent of their own pension costs (that percentage, he says, is below the national average) and 12.6 percent of health insurance costs (about half the national average, he says). Those changes together would help produce $30 million in savings in the last quarter of the current fiscal year.
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