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Scott Walker Playing Presidential Campaign Politics With UW System

February 16, 2015

Stopping for gasoline this past weekend outside of Madison led to my hearing a blunt conversation about Scott Walker’s proposed budget as it pertains to the UW System.  As I walked into pay a lively back-and-forth was underway about the slashing effects the budget cuts would have on the UW-Madison, a respected school worldwide.

One man commented with passion that he had cast a vote for Walker last November but never dreamed the governor would take such a thoughtless approach to the UW System.

“Do you have buyer’s remorse?” I asked.

“I did not think he would use our state in this way to further his presidential ambitions,” the man responded.

There were many things I could have said, but I really wanted to hear what this self-described Republican thought about the matter that is now roiling the state.  He was not pleased about being “bamboozled”.

I could have told him to get in a line of countless others who also failed to think clearly about their cast ballots.

In Sunday morning’s Up Front With Mike Gousha there was talk about how this item of college cuts was playing inside the Republican caucus under the dome.  The question that needs to be asked that would give more of a precise read of what is happening would be what are the constituents of GOP members writing and saying about the matter.  That is where the tire meets the road and will tell us much about how Joint Finance evaluates the budget.

There is no way Walker’s attack on the UW System is playing well across this state regardless of whether someone voted Democratic or Republican in the last election for governor.  No one is missing the fact that Walker is using his budget to play to a less than educated crowd in states where he needs to have an early and successful showing if he is to make hay with delegate selection.

When it comes to conservative primary voters there are two themes that always play well.  The first is to never allow science to be the basis for making policy.  With that in mind Walker has proposed slashing the Department of Natural Resources science and research bureau.   The current budget language would cut 18.4 positions.   If there are no changes that would mean a 31% cut in total budgeted positions and a reduction of nearly 20% of the positions now filled in the bureau.

Walker not being willing to address the topic of evolution while in London is also the type of anti-science discourse that plays to a type of primary voter who will be important for winning the GOP nomination.

The second way to play to conservatives is to bash higher education.  After all colleges and universities–so goes the rhetoric– are just filled with latte-drinking, progressive, effete, uppity, elitist types who read books with big words.  To clear the education-bashing bar Walker’s budget calls for a 13% cut in state aid across the university system for a total decrease of $300 million over the next two years.   With calculated tricks over tuition increase limitations Walker has potential to truly damage one of our most prized educational institutions.

That enlightened minds following a college education are a central component to a vibrant and well-functioning democracy seems lost on Walker and those who place their political ambitions ahead of the greater needs of the people they profess to represent.

The man at the gas station, I strongly suspect, is indicative of a very wide swath of this state who can not seem to understand that their votes when not thoughtfully used can have awful consequences.  Now they are unhappy.  The question that will take months to answer is how much attention will the legislature give to those constituents who are demanding a more rational approach to higher education and how much water will they carry for ‘our little scholar’ who has Potomac Fever?

I would not want to place my savings on any outcome given the crowd in control under the dome.

  1. Tom permalink
    February 19, 2015 9:45 AM

    I imagine that many of those who struggle to pay tuition at Madison or Green Bay or Milwaukee would see the slush fund as a scam, too. It was widely reported on the local TV, of course, but I missed it on NPR.

    Look at the data on staffing and enrollment in the UW system. I wouldn’t expect the FTE ratio to be that high in a hospital. Are you really suggesting that if staffing at the UW system does not always go up or remain the same–regardless of enrollment–we are somehow letting down the future? Hardly a scientific position.

    Then consider the taxes I already pay–income, property, sales, gas, on my phone, internet, just to name a few–and then indirectly in every other aspect of economic life. It is reasonable to be skeptical and judicious when dealing with governments in general–even those run by Republicans.

    My belief that they can handle a 2% cut to their overall budget does not mean that I oppose government or hate books.

  2. February 17, 2015 9:02 AM

    I was not going to respond to this comment and then you used the word scam and I could not abide your tone when it comes to the UW System.

    So let me be clear. We completely disagree.

    First because—above the actual issue at hand which is the UW—you delight in this scenario that is playing out in the state.

    Your chosen one for governor rammed through very tax cut he could and in so doing has placed the state in a most troubling place. You relished your tax cuts and the image that it brought to the governor even when the reduction in revenue to programs was hurting the state. Meanwhile the governor was not able to address the job shortage problem in the state and seemingly has even run out of excuses as to why he has not been able to perform with that matter.

    Now comes the severe and outlandish cuts to everything from state parks, public media, and of course the UW. I am not convinced at all that you see anything but an upside to all this since your role of what government should do could hit in my Mom’s thimble.

    So when you talk about the UW and use the word scam and “slush fund” it underscores where you are coming from in this state debate.

    The term ‘slush fund’ was so overly used and so incorrectly used all for the sake of partisan reasons that is became more a joke than any real way to address the matter.

    When one took out federal money and gifts and grants and other such monies the large amount of cash shrank quickly. If you had read or listened to someone other than a Republican who hates education you would have also known that the remaining portion in large part was designed for specific long term projects to further this learning institution as one the entire world knows and respects.

    The fact you seem gleeful about a 13% cut that would harm what I would argue is one of our greatest state institutions is really regrettable as you also from time to time mention being a school teacher. That you are unable to place all the puzzle pieces together when it comes to the education leaves me only to conclude your political positions are more important than the educational needs of the state.

    You asked where we can make up the need for revenue.

    How about we start asking Tom and Patrick and everyone else for a tax increase and pretend for a while we have a civilized government like that which can be found in Minnesota.

  3. tom permalink
    February 16, 2015 10:49 PM

    I just don’t get your reasoning here. From a historical perspective, While the UW system has jacked up tuition every year it could–at rates that shatter the rate of inflation–it has managed to build numerous buildings and acquire a staff that has steadily increased in relation to the number of pupils it served over the years. Look at their FTE to student ratio. They have added more than 1200 FTE’s since 2010 despite a declining enrollment.At the same time, it has maintained secret slush funds, scamming the people who pay tuition twice if they are tax-payers. Now Walker wants to cut the gigantic budget by what really amounts to 2.5% of a budget in the billions. They seriously cannot handle this? What kind of pathetic leadership do they have?

    Meanwhile, the budget in my school district has endured budget cuts since the early years of the Doyle administration, but we still manage to educate a fair number of students well enough to attend Madison or any of the others. IF we can endure these cuts, why can’t the universities? IF some of the faculty there are sooooooooooo valuable that they require higher salaries, keeping them happy is a choice that able administrators can certainly make as they balance their budgets.

    Is it really necessary to raise taxes so the university system can avoid even this tiny cut? I imagine that your answer would be yes, but what about every other area of the state budget? Since needs are unlimited and resources aren’t, choices have to be made.

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