In contrast to Wisconsin's Republican governor, who has targeted public-worker unions as the chief villain of his state's budget-cutting drama, Democratic governors across the country who face similar fiscal challenges have tried to sidestep such confrontations with a key constituency by quietly cutting deals with labor leaders.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed largely sparing schools and prisons from the deeper cuts hitting other areas as he tries to close the state's $25 billion deficit, and powerful unions representing teachers and corrections officers are lining up behind his budget plan.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has angered public-sector unions by calling for deep reductions in benefits, has worked closely with some labor officials on proposed cutbacks and is promising more dialogue in the coming days.
And while Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recently proposed deep cuts to Medicaid, human services and education and even called for closing a state prison, he has vowed to retain an agreement giving workers limited bargaining rights and has invited employees to submit ideas for cutting waste and inefficiencies.
"I'm not saying the unions are happy about this," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has angered public-worker advocates by his push to overhaul state pensions as he tries to cut billions from the budget this year. "But it's not like we're locking each other out of the statehouse or stopped talking with each other."
O'Malley, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, will welcome a number of his counterparts from around the nation to Washington for a weekend meeting, starting Friday, at which budget-cutting strategies are expected to be a hot topic. He described his party's approach with the unions as "fundamentally pragmatic," adding that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other Republican leaders have embarked on an "ideological drive to go after the unions, to destroy the unions."
Walker's plan to roll back collective-bargaining rights for many public workers has sparked mass protests and a legislative standoff. It has also suddenly made him a hero to many conservatives who see public-sector unions as major funders of Democratic campaigns and fierce defenders of pension systems that have helped drain state coffers.