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State Agricultural Leaders Split on Walker's Efforts
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 03/10/2011

The leader of another Wisconsin farm organization says he feels Governor Scott Walker is doing the right thing by going down the 'path to fiscal responsibility' with his plan to strip collective bargaining rights from most state workers, while slashing many government programs. In a letter this week to Gov. Walker, Dairy Business Association President Jerry Meissner said farmers know what it's like to make difficult spending cuts while times are tough.

"I am grateful for the tough decisions and the political sacrifices you are making to keep your promise to reform Wisconsin," Meissner wrote to the governor. "Our state's prior leadership got us into this financial mess by enacting budgets that were balanced by increasing fees and taxes, raiding segregated funds and relying on one-time stimulus dollars. Those actions allowed the state to operate in a continuous deficit and put the burden squarely on our children and grandchildren. You have shown true leadership by proposing a budget repair bill and biennial budget that do not increase fees or taxes, that drive down the deficit and, most importantly, make Wisconsin more attractive to outside businesses."

Meissner, a Clark County dairy producer who's group supported Walker in the 2010 election, said the governor's proposed budget for 2011-13 offers real solutions for getting Wisconsin's finances in order.

Walker's plan to end collective bargaining rights with state union members came to an end on Wednesday evening when Senate Republicans took the provision out of the budget repair bill and passed it in a separate measure that didn't require a quorum to be approved.

Meanwhile, farmers at the annual Ag Day at the Capitol on Wednesday were divided on the issue. Producers on the conservative side agreed that cuts have to be made, and said many of the state union workers are getting more attractive benefits than the average worker in the U.S.--even after the Walker plan goes into effect. But others say the move is just the beginning to what could eventually lead to a domino effect with other sectors, such as agriculture.

Governor Walker also addressed the farm gathering in Madison, where he reassured producers that protecting agriculture is among his top priorities. He further promised to preserve the use-value assessment law for farmland and said he is committed to maintaining funds for transportation and the Ag Chemical Clean-Up Fund.

The Wisconsin Farmers Union was very vocal on the other side of the issue this week. In various radio and newspaper interviews on Wednesday, WFU President Darin Von Ruden said his group made the decision to join the fight for various reasons.

"Within weeks of taking office, Walker became the poster boy for what corporate anti-union forces have fought decades to do: undermine organized labor as a political actor," Von Ruden said. "What's happening in Madison isn't just about regard for unions and workers' rights--or preserving BadgerCare or even halting a potential energy price-fixing scheme that could bilk Wisconsin residents for generations."

The WFU and Family Farm Defenders are teaming up to hold a 'Farm Labor Tractorcade' on the capitol square in Madison on Saturday to protest. The rally will include an address by columnist Jim Hightower of Texas, along with music and presentations by farmers speaking out against the governor's proposals. That rally will begin at the Alliant Energy Center around 10:00 a.m., where tractor drivers will then travel on John Nolan Drive to the square until about 11 a.m., and then hold their rally.

After the Senate's vote, nearly seven thousand protesters poured into the state capitol throughout the night last evening to show their disapproval of the Senate's actions. Many people on both sides of the debate are now promising recalls of area lawmakers who didn't represent their interest.

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