How long can Wisconsin protesters occupy the State Capitol?

Police on Sunday decided not to enforce a 4 p.m. deadline for clearing the building so it could be cleaned. Both the Wisconsin protesters and the state governor hardly appear to be backing down.

Andy Manis/AP
On the 14th day of protests at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., on Monday, Feb. 28, police and demonstrators gather on the rotunda floor. Opponents to the governor's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers have been sleeping at the Capitol since Feb. 15th.

Right now it looks like the sit-in that’s filled the hallways of the Wisconsin State Capitol for the past two weeks is going to continue indefinitely.

Police on Sunday decided not to enforce a 4 p.m. deadline for clearing the building so it could be cleaned. Protesters fighting efforts to strip Wisconsin public workers of their union collective-bargaining power camped overnight in the building and were still there as state government business resumed on Monday.

As long as the estimated 4,000 demonstrators continued to obey the law, said Wisconsin Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs, there would be no need for arrests.

“People here have acted lawfully and responsibly,” he said.

But if the capitol demonstration appears to be an immovable object, then Republican Gov. Scott Walker is making out to be an unstoppable force. In an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Governor Walker backed down not one inch from his proposal to strip most of the state’s public workers of the power to collectively bargain.

Host David Gregory pressed Walker as to why he would not take yes for an answer, given that top union leaders have said they would agree to wage cuts and other benefit rollbacks that Walker says are needed to balance the state’s budget.

Walker said that given the number of unions at issue, he still believed that ending collective bargaining is necessary to make sure the cuts are implemented. And he said that he is trying to make sure future Wisconsin governors don’t have to face their own budget crises.

“Year after year, governors and legislators before us have kicked the can down the road,” said Walker. “We can’t do that. We’re broke. It’s about time someone stood up and told the truth in our state and said, 'Here’s our problem, here’s the solution, and let’s do this.' ”

Walker’s proposal has passed the state Assembly, but it's stalled in the Senate because 14 Democratic senators have fled the state, depriving the chamber of the quorum necessary to continue legislative business.

At the moment, it is hard to see how this ends without complete defeat for one side. On Tuesday, Walker is scheduled to deliver his two-year budget plan in the Assembly chamber, outlining why he believes his actions are necessary.

The budget is expected to include a $1 billion cut in state aid to local governments and schools, among other things, to help close a projected $3.6 billion shortfall.

It’s clear that the two sides see two entirely different things when contemplating public-sector unions.

Public workers see themselves as public servants who have sacrificed higher pay in return for job security and good benefits. As Brookings Institution labor expert Gary Burtless notes in an online analysis, public workers are much more likely to have a traditional pension plan and retirement health benefits than private-sector counterparts.

“On the other hand, the money wages received by public employees tend to be less,” he says.

Republican governors who have moved to curb public union power, however, see public workers as a privileged elite who are doing well at the expense of beleaguered taxpayers.

Even public schoolteachers are a privileged elite compared with average workers, said GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana on Sunday.

“Across America ... we’re had a huge inversion. There may have been a time a century ago where public employees were mistreated and vulnerable and underpaid. If that was ever a problem, we have overfixed it,” said Governor Daniels in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

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