April 10, 2011- This is how you pour gasoline on what is already expected to be an explosive hearing at State Fair Park on Monday over Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget:
You do what state Rep. Tamara Grigsby did this weekend.
The Milwaukee Democrat accused the leaders of the Joint Finance Committee of taking steps, in advance, to shut down debate early on the budget bill – and then claimed they are doing this because they don't want to be near Milwaukee too late.
"They're scared to death of Milwaukee," Grigsby said. "They don't want to be here after dark."
Without naming names, she said some of her fellow lawmakers share a "real fear about being in Milwaukee." Asked if she felt the committee leaders were acting on racist concerns, she said, "If it looks like a duck."
Grigsby quickly added, "I didn't use those words," referring to the notions of race or racism.
Joint Finance co-chairman Robin Vos said he was stunned by her remarks, saying Grigsby was leveling a baseless accusation.
First, he noted that the budget hearing, which is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is in West Allis, not Milwaukee.
In addition, the Rochester Republican said he and his wife had spent Saturday night at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, enjoying a good time in the city after dark.
"People can make up any lies they want," Vos said. "I just think it's stupid."
Monday's hearing is the third one to be held around the state on Walker's sweeping two-year budget plan.
Grigsby said she and fellow Milwaukee Democrat state Sen. Lena Taylor were upset that testimony will end shortly after most people get off work. Several unions have events planned at State Fair all day, including a rally beginning at 4:30 p.m.
So the pair – both of whom are on the powerful, budget-writing committee – decided to oversee their own informal meeting in which they would continue to hear comments until 9 p.m. Grigsby said her staffer was told it would cost them $200 to rent the space for the three extra hours and that Taylor had agreed to pick up the tab.
State Fair spokeswoman Patrice Harris said Sunday that the conversation with Grigsby's aide was very informal and no precise dollar amount was given. Harris said State Fair estimated that security and labor costs would be "several hundred dollars."
Before going any further, Grigsby and Taylor said they decided to give Vos and his fellow committee leader, state Sen. Alberta Darling, a heads up.
"I have to be candid," Taylor said. "I was leery."
Darling said an extension was OK, Taylor said.
Taylor said she approached Vos after a Joint Finance Committee hearing in Madison.
She said he told her that the Republican members of the committee might want to leave at 6 p.m., but Taylor said that would be OK. He told her the staff might want to go home, too. Taylor said she didn't mind that either.
"He said he would think about it," Taylor said.