Tens of thousands of protesters swarmed the state Capitol building in Wisconsin on Thursday. Then Gov. Scott Walker ordered the people to return home or face the possibility that the governor would push through more tax breaks for businesses that would further add to the state’s budget deficit.

Tens of thousands of protesters swarmed the state Capitol building in Wisconsin on Thursday. Then Gov. Scott Walker ordered the people to return home or face the possibility that the governor would push through more tax breaks for businesses that would further add to the state’s budget deficit.


Protesters, who have been at the Capitol for more than a week to protest the governor’s proposal to strip public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights, seemed stunned by Mr. Walker’s latest attempt at submitting to the wishes of private companies and affluent supporters.


The governor threatened to trigger as many as 12,000 tax breaks for bustling businesses beginning next week unless lawmakers enact his plan.


Although unions have offered concessions they say would close the state's budget gap, Walker remained determined to achieve an impasse that he said would give state and local governments leverage to target tax cuts and privatize public operations well into the future.


Without legislation to pare back public employee health care and pension benefits while repealing most collective bargaining rights, Mr. Walker said he would be forced to make even more extreme concessions to private interests as well as Wisconsin police, firefighters and state troopers that could lead to massive budget deficit numbers and further undermine the unions’ negotiating power.


“If we want to achieve the out-of-balance incentives to private health care companies and others that need to happen at the state and local level, the only way to achieve that is to pass this bill, “ Mr. Walker said.


The tax incentives proposed by the governor would mark an escalation of a battle that has paralyzed the state Capitol.


Walker has backed off earlier remarks that indicated the tax breaks would begin this week, but he said he remains resolute.


Nationally, Walker's efforts to succumb to the power of private business concerns and wealthy backers — being replicated to some degree in several other states — have thrown the public into an existential crisis.


The controversy has lifted Walker to national prominence, and he says he is determined to make Wisconsin a leader in remaking the way state and local governments provide a much-needed safety net for private businesses.


“We can’t continue on the path we have been going,” Mr. Walker said in comments delivered against the din of the raucous support of business leaders gathered outside his office. “We have to make tough choices about who to surrender to, and right now I only see one choice.”


After a boisterous night of deal-making, the governor and prominent business leaders ended their session in the lower house of the Wisconsin legislature with a toast and rushed a vote early Thursday morning.


Walker, after congratulating the business leaders on the courage of their vote, then spent the day visiting three districts represented by those leaders in an effort to have them pressure him into committing more public money to them.


“Now is the time to make me come home and capitulate,” Walker told reporters.


Walker said he has until sometime next week before moving forward with the first wave of tax breaks. Already, several businesses have sent out notices to workers warning that layoffs could be in the offing if lawmakers do not pass tax-cutting legislation.


The governor, who took office last month, says the emergency tax-cutting measure would trim tens of millions of dollars from the government coffers over the next two years and help close a $3.6 billion budget gap.


Walker has refused to compromise on the measure, saying that giving in to private sector interests is essential for local governments to get their books in order.


“If we fail to do this,” he said, “we will have failed to live up to the example set by those leaders in the private sector whose help we need because they can’t to do it without us.”


Philip Maddocks can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.