SPRINGFIELD, IL – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker today extolled the courage of Abraham Lincoln to a Springfield audience, and suggested that courage to stand up to public-sector unions is what’s needed for Illinois to fix its fiscal crisis.
“Wisconsin couldn’t wait. We had to take action,” Walker told a several hundred enthusiastic business leaders at a Springfield hotel, referring to his controversial roll-back of public sector union rights in tackling Wisconsin’s budget deficit.
Outside the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel in downtown Springfield, an estimated 3,000 union protestors picketed his speech outside in the streets carrying signs that said, “Go home, Gov. Walker.”
“He needs to get out of our state,” said Bryan Gale, a Decatur corrections worker. “ . . . Get out of Illinois and leave our jobs alone.”
Speaking to a gathering of The Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, Walker recounted his fiscal strategy of wresting power from the state’s unions and other actions that have made him the darling of conservatives nationally.
“We thought more about the next generation than we did about the next election,” he said, to thunderous applause from the business gathering.
But Walker, a first-term Republican clearly was thinking about his upcoming recall election, which he referenced several times in the speech. He said he expects to keep his seat, and he suggested that job growth in Wisconsin will explode once businesses are certain his policies will remain in place.
Labor supporters nationally have accused Walker of union-busting that went beyond any fiscal necessity. Walker insisted in the speech that “collective bargaining stood in the way” of fixing Wisconsin’s fiscal situation, and that the bargaining system had to be reformed.
As proof that the reforms were ultimately better for even the workers, he pointed out that, unlike Illinois under Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, Wisconsin isn’t talking about large layoffs of public sector workers to balance the budget.
Walker blamed his recall challenge on “a handful of big union bosses . . . who think I’m standing in the way of their money and power.”
Walker wasn’t paid for the speech, according to organizers.
Illinois’ fiscal crisis is driven partly by a public pension debt that was caused by years of underpaying into the system from the Legislature. Illinois has recently changed its rules to make the pension system less generous to new hires, but Quinn has resisted calls to retroactively change the pension rights of previously hired workers.