Massive crowds expected to swarm the first public hearing on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's state budget proposal didn't materialize Thursday, reducing the affair to another mundane legislative proceeding.
The Legislature's finance committee held the meeting in a cavernous arena on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus in anticipation of a huge turnout and demonstrations.
Union supporters are still seething over Walker's divisive collective bargaining law and deep budget cuts to education and local government aid in the governor's new two-year spending plan has stoked that anger. The hearing also came just two days after a tightly contested state Supreme Court election between conservative Justice David Prosser and a little-known challenger that was still too close to call.
State troopers and local police blocked the road in front of the arena to vehicles. Local Democrats set up a tent across the street to sell food and "Recall Walker" buttons and planned a rally before the hearing began at 9 a.m.
"People have said this is a movement but it's more like a revolution," said Laura Hauser-Menting, co-chairwoman of the Portage County Democratic Party. "People have had their last button pushed."
But the rally never happened. A half-hour before the hearing began only a half-dozen or so protesters were outside the arena, and they left soon after the proceeding began and only about 200 people were in the gym when the Legislature's Republican-controlled budget committee started taking public comments.