Area union organizers are criticizing Republican leaders of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee for scheduling the only public hearing in southeastern Wisconsin on Gov. Scott Walker's state budget during working hours.
However, a spokesman for the Assembly co-chairman of the committee shot back that the nearly day-long open meeting will show what democracy really looks like.
The unions and other groups opposed to the budget are planning several actions Monday at State Fair Park when the committee convenes to hear public reaction to the governor's 2011-2013 spending plan.
The hearing will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m at the Expo Center on the state fairgrounds in West Allis. Anyone may speak in the town hall format, but speakers will be limited to two minutes. The committee will also collect written testimony.
During the past week, similar hearings have been held across the state; this is the only public hearing so far planned for southeastern Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin AFL-CIO, We Are Wisconsin, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and other groups have announced actions early and late in the day designed to maximize workers' access to the hearings.
A 7 a.m. press conference at the Expo Center is intended to give working people, especially teachers, an opportunity to take part before they head for their jobs.
"Some of the teachers wanted to have their voices heard, but unfortunately the hearing is scheduled during work hours, when 95 percent of constituents can't make it," said Karen Hickey, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.
"There's also going to be a public testimony dropoff in the parking lot east of 84th Street on Adler Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.," Hickey said. "That's also for people who want to have a say but can't wait in line."
Finally, the groups are planning a "Rally against Walker’s Budget" at 4:30 p.m. outside the Expo Center. Organizers were hoping for a good turnout as the workday ends for teachers and others, but they are not expecting the kind of crowd seen in Madison during protests over the budget repair bill.
"People feel really strongly about this," Hickey said, "but again, they have to work, so I don't think it will be a huge rally."
Hickey said that scheduling the hearing on a weekday during working hours was unfair to the very people who would be most affected by proposed budget cuts.
The Joint Finance Committee leaders "talked about having the hearings on weekends or evenings but then they didn't, and they didn't really give a reason why," Hickey said.
But Kit Beyer, spokesman for committee co-chairman Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington), countered that the committee was going beyond the call of duty by holding lengthy open meetings all across the state.
"If they see it as a limitation, we see it as an opportunity," Beyer said. "This is democracy at work. We are continuing an honored tradition in Wisconsin. We're going on the road to hear the voice of the people, and we're listening, we're taking notes.
"Our members have been holding these listening sessions even after a 17-hour hearing in Madison, the longest in state history. And we always have people taking calls and answering e-mails," Beyer said.
"People can stand up and be heard, but they can also call and write if they can't make it to the microphone. We know people are busy, but we live in an age of technology, and believe me, we do listen to every call and read every e-mail."
Written comments can be sent to the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or sent by mail to: Joe Malkasian, Room 305 East, State Capitol, Madison, WI 53703.
The Patch will provide live coverage of Monday's budget hearing.