With lawmakers gearing up for a vote on the state budget, a “Walkerville” camp similar to the one that sprang up during the protests at the state Capitol earlier this year may be returning this weekend — this time to the terraces of Mifflin and Carroll streets.
We Are Wisconsin, an alliance of community groups, labor unions and others, has asked the city for a permit to set up the camp across from the Capitol to provide information about Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposals and efforts to recall Republican legislators who voted to eliminate bargaining rights for most public employees.
The city’s Street Use Staff Commission will have a special meeting Friday to consider the permit application for a state budget rally that would begin Saturday and continue through June 20.
David Boetcher, who is helping to organize the event, said an information station would be accompanied by overnight campers, who could number in the thousands on weekends.
The proposed camp area is North Carroll Street from State Street to West Washington Avenue, and West Mifflin Street from State Street to Wisconsin Avenue, including the “30 on the Square” cul-de-sac at 30 W. Mifflin St. and the Philosophers’ Stones area between the Wisconsin Historical Museum and Myles Teddywedgers Cornish, 101 State St.
Walker’s proposed budget is being debated by the Legislature’s powerful budget committee this week and is expected to be sent to the full Legislature by the weekend.
Republican leaders have said they may insert Walker’s controversial plan to dramatically limit collective bargaining for nearly all public workers in Wisconsin into the 2011-2013 budget as the state Supreme Court considers whether to take up the case after a Dane County judge struck down the law last week saying Republican legislators had violated the state’s open meetings law.
The city, which granted a permit for a smaller camp on the terrace of Pinckney Street across from the Capitol in March, is working to balance the rights of free speech with the needs of local businesses, said Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, who represents most of the Downtown area.
Kelly Lamberty, community events coordinator for the city’s Parks Division, said concerns also include the impact on other permitted events, including the Dane County Farmers’ Market, and licensed vendors assigned to the area.
Boetcher said organizers opted to go through the permit process, rather than simply stage a protest, so they could work with the city and not have a negative impact on businesses.
He said group members could have applied for a permit to be located on the Capitol grounds, but did not believe one would have been granted.
Peter McElvanna, the general manager and proprietor of the Coopers Tavern, 20 W. Mifflin St., said he would have no problem with protesters camping near his business.
McElvanna, who was born and raised in Northern Ireland, said he chose to live in the United States because “you have the right to speak your mind — that’s what makes this country special.”
He added that he hoped protesters wouldn’t prevent pedestrians from being able to walk on the sidewalks.
But Patrick Blake, who owns shoo footwear shop, 109 State St., said sales were “terrible, our worst month ever” in February, and bad in March, during the peak of the protests.
Blake said other boutiques, salons and high-end restaurants near the Capitol also struggled during the large protests, partly because of concerns about parking, though weather was also likely a factor.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he has security concerns about massive crowds showing up again at the state Capitol as Republicans try to pass the budget.
Fitzgerald said they hope to pass the budget in the Assembly and Senate by mid-June.
Critics of the budget, including Democrats in the minority, say the budget shows the GOP sees the wealthy as a priority over the middle class. They say Republicans are giving tax breaks to corporations while cutting things like public education, universities and technical colleges, and reducing tax cuts for the poor.
Mayor Paul Soglin said city officials are trying to figure out how to allow the right to free speech without turning the Capitol Square into a campground.
“After 100 years of protests and demonstration in Madison, you’d think we’d see everything, but there’s always a new challenge.”
State Journal reporter Dean Mosiman contributed to this story.