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Wisconsin gov: Democratic senator's border meeting idea 'ridiculous'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Wisconsin Dems want border meeting
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Scott Walker rejects Democratic state Senate leader's idea
  • Wisconsin Democrats want to meet near state border to discuss budget impasse
  • The state senators left the state to prevent a vote on a plan to curb bargaining rights
  • Sen. Chris Larson says they will not return until "collective bargaining is off the table"

(CNN) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Monday dismissed as "ridiculous" a letter from a Democratic state Senate leader who suggested a meeting "near the Wisconsin-Illinois border" to discuss the state's budget impasse.

Sen. Mark Miller sent the letter to Walker on Monday, offering a border summit as a way to resume stalled negotiations on the state's budget.

Miller and 13 other Democratic senators left Wisconsin for Illinois on February 17 to prevent a vote on a budget plan that includes limits on public bargaining.

But Walker said top Republican lawmakers and even members of his own staff have already met repeatedly with some of senators, including one meeting over hot chocolate at a McDonald's restaurant. Walker said the talks seemed to be making progress and the Democrats' return seemed imminent

"Time and time again, the person standing in the way of making that possible is Sen. Mark Miller," Walker said.

Walker and Republican lawmakers are trying to close a $137 million budget shortfall with a plan that calls for curbs on public employee union bargaining rights and requires public workers, with the exception of police and firefighters, to cover more of their retirement plans and health care premiums.

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The proposal ignited fierce opposition from labor leaders and their supporters. Hundreds of protesters occupied the state Capitol building for weeks over the proposal.

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Public employee unions agreed to financial concessions that they say will help meet the state's fiscal needs, but Walker has said the limits on public bargaining are a critical component of his plan and are not negotiable.

In his letter, Miller said that's not what Wisconsin residents want.

"The people of Wisconsin are overwhelmingly supportive of us reaching a bipartisan, negotiated compromise," he said. "Senate Democrats stand ready to do just that, we ask that you do the same."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said that Republicans are willing to work with the Democrats and that his meetings with some of the Democratic senators were so productive, he thought they would be back at work by last Wednesday. But he said each advance has been accompanied by a setback, and he said it's unclear who is in charge of the caucus.

"It's the most frustrating process I've ever been involved in," he said.

It appeared early Monday that the senators might be back on their way to the state, following a Wall Street Journal report citing Miller as saying the Democrats were preparing to return. But the senators said those reports weren't accurate.

"Dems will return when collective bargaining is off the table," Sen. Chris Larson said in a posting to his Facebook page late Sunday. "That could be soon based on the growing public opposition to the bill and the recall efforts against Republicans."

So far, nothing has worked to bring the Democrats back to the legislature.

The Senate's Republican majority has approved resolutions charging their Democratic colleagues $100 daily fines until they return and declaring them in contempt if they didn't return by Thursday. On Friday, Walker's office issued notices to unions, warning them of possible layoffs in early April if the budget impasse continues.

The measure "may be able to be rescinded and layoffs avoided" if the Senate Democrats return to the state Capitol, Walker's office said in a news release.

CNN's Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.

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