Five runaway Democratic Wisconsin state senators made a pit stop Tuesday at a Grayslake hotel where they watched a budget address by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Wisconsin's Democratic nomadic senators who surfaced at Grayslake's Comfort Suites are among 14 legislators who bolted for Illinois on Feb. 17 in protest of Walker's proposal that has infuriated public employees.
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After the senators left, a vote has been unable to occur on Walker's plan to have public workers contribute more to their pensions and health insurance, while losing the ability to collectively bargain benefits and work conditions.
"We must work together to bring our spending together with reality," Walker said Tuesday in outlining a budget that calls for a package of $1.5 billion in cuts while sidestepping mass layoffs, tax hikes or furloughs.
Senators Mark Miller, Chris Larson and Fred Risser were in a Comfort Suites meeting room to watch Walker on a feed from Milwaukee's WTMJ-TV. They were joined by senators Julie Lassa and Dave Hansen at a post-speech news conference.
Miller, the Wisconsin senate's Democratic minority leader from Monona, quietly chuckled during a part of Walker's speech when the governor said the proposed budget would bring property tax relief.
After the governor spoke, Miller didn't commit to when the AWOL senators would go home. He said discussions are occurring between legislative leaders and Walker's office.
"The governor's budget was a continued assault on the middle class of the state of Wisconsin," Miller said. "He is balancing the budget on the backs of the working class and ordinary taxpayers."
Risser said the Grayslake Comfort Suites was selected by staff members as a place to watch Walker's speech together, but they were not spending the night there. The senators didn't say where they planned to bunk.
Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay, who noted his district includes Lambeau Field, said he and the others have been paying their own tabs for lodging and other necessities since fleeing Wisconsin and bouncing around Illinois.
"I'm taking a (financial) hit," Hansen said.
Senators have rejected offers of financial assistance from groups and individuals, Risser said. He said some of the senators have stayed in private homes, as well as hotels.
Risser, whose district is in Madison, said the Wisconsin politicians will return at some point.
"One of our main goals was to bring attention to what is happening," Risser said.