SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker travels to the capital of Illinois Tuesday, April 17th - a place he's used as a political punching bag for the last year. Walker was invited by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce to explain his approach to balancing Wisconsin's state budget, but some are not ready to roll out the welcome mat. Union workers are planning a big protest that may involve as many as 2,000 people.
Walker is headed into the "lion's den" Tuesday - Springfield, Illinois - the emblem of all he says is wrong with government. Walker has made no secret about his plans to lure Illinois businesses across the border into Wisconsin, and Tuesday, he plans to bring that message to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
Why would the Illinois Chamber of Commerce invite Walker to speak? "This year it was very obvious that Scott Walker was the right person to bring because of the fact that Wisconsin and Illinois have both suffered serious budget deficits. Wisconsin's solution was to end with a balanced budget and not raise taxes," Doug Whitley with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce said.
Walker himself has made that point over and over again - stressing that Wisconsin balanced the budget without raising taxes. Upon winning the election in 2010, Walker declared it a new day, and set a new direction. Walker placed signs at the border between Wisconsin and Illinois, declaring "Wisconsin is Open for Business," as an attempt to lure Illinois businesses across the border.
At the same time Wisconsin was in an upheaval over Walker's collective bargaining budget proposals, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn pushed for a huge tax increase. A year later, Moody's downgraded Illinois' bond rating. Pew Center on the States called Illinois' pension system the worst in the nation. Now, Governor Quinn is proposing cuts and layoffs. Walker is touting Wisconsin's first property tax decrease in a decade, and an unemployment rate below seven percent.
"We're trying to encourage our elected officials to take steps that are bold, that will move the needle and put Illinois back on the fast track. I don't believe the Illinois Legislature or the Illinois governor are going to follow Scott Walker's blueprint, but I'm hoping there will be a few similarities our elected officials will pay attention to," Whitley said.
The labor movement sees Walker as the embodiment of an extreme agenda - one that seeks to cripple and then destroy public sector unions. "He's being brought here specifically for the purpose of bringing some political muscle to a program of trying to destroy as many basic worker rights as possible. We're certainly trying to send him back to Wisconsin and hopefully he'll be sorry that he came here. Hopefully those people who brought him here with the idea that he can promote his plan as something that the people of Illinois should have will be sorry as well," Jeff Bigelow with AFSCME - Illinois' largest public employees union said.
AFSCME has posted on its website: "Walker is not welcome in Illinois."
"We are going to be out there in very strong numbers to say 'no' to Governor Walker's plan for Illinois. 'No' to the Chamber of Commerce who wants to import the Walker plan for Illinois and we're standing up for the people of Illinois," Bigelow said.
Union members are planning a huge protest in Springfield on Tuesday. Walker is used to protests at the state Capitol in Madison, but for the last year, these protests seem to follow him wherever he goes. The last time Walker gave a speech in Illinois, "Occupy" protesters interrupted his remarks at Chicago's Union League Club.
"No matter how loud you shout, the facts are the facts. The facts are that our reforms have worked," Walker said.
Just last week in Oklahoma City, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the location of a Walker speech that was closed to the public. "They invited Governor Walker from Wisconsin to come in and talk about what he did to the unions and working people of Wisconsin and we're here to protest him coming in," one protester said. "We're just unhappy with his war on the workers of Wisconsin, and we're not happy about him bringing these ideas to Oklahoma," another protester said.
Union groups in Illinois are running radio ads criticizing the Walker visit. Walker says his speech will focus on how to balance a budget and make a friendly business environment, even in tough times.
Organizers are expecting much of the same in Springfield as in Oklahoma, but on a larger scale. One organizer told FOX6 News she is preparing for "complete chaos."
Walker is set to speak at 10:00 Tuesday morning, April 17th.