Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Starving the Beast" rears its ugly head at the UW

After having its budget cut by $250 million for the 2015-17 biennium by Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP-controlled Legislature, the UW Board of Regents planned to have an item during its meeting this month that allowed for UW chancellors to describe the impact of the cuts and what adjustments might need to be made for the rapidly-arriving 2016-17 fiscal year. And the chancellors gave the Regents the truth.
UW-Eau Claire, for example, has cut 179 full-time positions, about half of those through a voluntary separation program. Twenty-five faculty have resigned, up 150 percent from last year, and class sizes are 14 percent larger on average.

It’s a similar tale at other UW campuses, with some such as UW-Green Bay and UW-La Crosse cutting some databases and other resources that students can access for research.

UW-Madison, which has spent almost $9 million on keeping faculty, expects to cut 418 positions over the biennium.

The flagship campus said it’s been unable to expand programs with high student demand, such as business, engineering and nursing. It also said it’s cut back significantly on advising services and maintenance, as did other campuses. UW-Platteville is also delaying major renovation projects at buildings that it says are significantly outdated.
The UW Board of Regents (stacked with Walker appointees) didn't want the public to find out about this, so they responded in classic GOP "party of responsibility" fashion- they scrapped the presentation right out of the meeting. And the "out of sight, out of mind" act hasn't stopped there, as these guys are apparently so intimidated by Walker and WisGOP that a story broke today describing how UW System officials erased a video where UW chancellors described the impact of the budget cuts, keeping them from being acquired in open records requests that may come.
[UW] Spokesman Alex Hummel said he never saved the video of chancellors rehearsing their presentations because the talks were canceled, and later deleted the files to clear space on a camera so he could record the Board of Regents meeting where the chancellors planned to speak.

UW System institutions have eliminated hundreds of jobs, reduced course offerings and cut services such as advising and maintenance as they absorb their shares of a $250 million decrease in higher education funding in the 2015-17 state budget.

Hummel said last week that erasing the videos was “a mistake.” On Monday, however, UW System officials said they were not required to keep the videos, and Hummel said his actions were not in error…

But state Rep. Terese Berceau, a Madison Democrat who has called for a public hearing on the budget cuts, said the decision to delete the videos followed what she described as a trend of UW officials being afraid to talk about the impact of reduced state funding because they fear “retribution from the Legislature.”

“It’s part of regular practice now to make sure that the Legislature is not going to hear or see anything that might anger it,” Berceau said.
I can't begin to tell you how infuriated this makes me. Not just due to the regressive policies Walker and the ALEC Crew have put in, as the UW is one of the best uses of state tax dollars, directly generating economic activity and cultivating talent that pays back that investment many times over, and cutting its budget is the exact opposite direction that we should be going in if we truly want to be "open for business."

But I also see that the State Legislature and Governor's Office have completely intimidated UW System officials, and are keeping them from being honest about what effects these policies are having on their campuses, to try to keep the public in the dark. This is the outcome that results from GOP dominance of state government, where they abuse their power and divert resources away from institutions they do not like, and/or neuter and devalue those organizations if they feel they may tell inconvenient truths to others, which may threaten the GOP's stranglehold on government. This is the way authoritarian governments and Banana Republics operate, where they silence potential pockets of dissent, instead of working with those organizations to improve outcomes.

And why did these cuts happen in the first place? Tax cuts passed by the Walker/ALEC crew over these 5 years of error reduced revenue, putting the state budget in such a deficit in 2015 that they "had" to cut $250 million to the UW System to balance the books. These are the same tax cuts that Walker was bragging about as part of a PR tour that went to multiple locations around the state yesterday (at taxpayer expense, I will add). Those same tax cuts have "led" us to dead last in the Midwest for job growth since Walker and WisGOP came to power in 2011, and a bleeding of qualified workers from the UW System and K-12 schools in response to the defunding and devaluing of those institutions.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin rightfully hammered on this strategy with a press release today.
On the heels of Tax Day, we are reminded that Governor Scott Walker slashed $250 million from the University of Wisconsin’s budget in order pay for the millions in tax breaks he has given to special interests and greedy out of state corporations. Instead of prioritizing the needs of Wisconsin’s students and building on what was the gold standard of public higher education, Walker has gutted the UW system to pay for tax giveaways to the richest of the rich.

“Scott Walker has slashed the UW system’s budget to ribbons while giving millions in tax breaks to his special interest and out of state corporate buddies,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Executive Director Kory Kozloski said on Tuesday. “He is placing the unfair burden of $250 million in budget cuts on the backs of students who are only trying to better themselves with a higher education.”
Kozloski is correct to connect the tax cuts to the defunding of the UW, as what's happening to the UW is a clear example of a longtime right-wing strategy known as "Starving the Beast." This is intentional vandalism, and it results after tax cuts and other reductions in revenue are imposed. This leads to deficits that force spending cuts which just happen to be targeted for services that right-wingers may not like and/or want to see privatized out to their campaign contributors.

"Starving the Beast" is also the title of a movie playing tomorrow night at the Barrymore Theatre as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival. The movie talks about the defunding and devaluing of the UW, as well as similar efforts being done at the University of North Carolina, Louisiana State, Arizona State, and other public colleges. I'm going to it, I recommend you go to it, and I recommend that we recognize that this cancerous "Starve the Beast" mentality is not just a localized disease to Wisconsin, but one that is being put upon pretty much any state run by ALEC Republicans these days. Because other than ethnic diversity, nothing endangers the GOP staying in power more than an educated public that can think for themselves, and who uses their added talent in the workforce to innovate and create competition for the old guard.


  1. There needs to be a full story soon that details the absolute failure and incompetence of Ray Cross. It's beyond comedy. And the excuse offered for the video? Wow. I guess the cuts are so deep we can't afford, you know, another camera, or say, freaking memory cards. By any standard of "accountability" UW Central is a failure, and when the next round of cuts come they should be the ones cut. I mean, that's more "flexibility" then for Chancellors right? No president to treat them like there at some kids birthday party. There's also word that people are trying to determine if the presentations were cancelled after a call from Walker. With Villa in the office, it's entirely plausible.

  2. The real tragedy here is the failure of the people of Wisconsin (at least so far) to connect the dots on these types of things.

    If I were in government and just "had to choose" where $250m was going to go, it'd be UW and not the MKE Bucks. Which one invests in the state for the true long term?

    Problem is, no one can or wants to look that far ahead. Most likely the latter as there is no short-term reward. Politicians look like heros (to some) with all this controversial stuff and they're nowhere to be found when all the (un)intended consequences come home to roost.

    1. Good point Rich. These are conscious choices by Walker and the ALEC crew. Same goes for all the extra money being poured into voucher schools and the WEDC slush fund.

      The dots absolutely.connect, and we need more Dems to make those connections to people outstate that may not see the effects of UW cuts firsthand

  3. "the State Legislature and Governor's Office have completely intimidated UW System officials"

    The original "closed door" UW budget that was proposed in December 2014 apparently had multiple campus closings, we've heard from Democratic legislators. When they backed off on that to "only" a $250-300m cut, the rumor was that they campus closings were held back a threat.

    1. Good info, Bob. And closing/selling campuses seems like the mext logical step. There's always a new scam for the ALEC crew to cook up in the back room, because thats how those slimeballs roll.

  4. Update- Read this excellent article from Charlie Pierce on the attacks on.the UW Extension, and how outstate Wisconsin voters are slitting their own throats by voting for GOP candidates that defund the higher ed services their communities need and rely upon.

  5. It isn't just the tax cuts. Its also the wage cuts to public workers which decreased payroll taxes. In addition to the wage cuts, spending by public employees was reduced which meant less sales tax revenue. I don't know the numbers but most public employees took a 10% pay cut with Act 10. That has to hurt.

    1. No question, and it makes it that much tougher to compete for good talent. Which likely raises salaries higher (as we saw with the $9 mil in retention bonuses at UW-Madison.

      All part of the ALEC plan.

    2. Part of their plan is to close one or two UW campuses, and claim they're doing so because said campuses are "redundant" and "unneeded". The GOP won't admit it, but they're already talking about it among themselves.

  6. All I can say is Fuckety-fuck-fuck. Goldman fools.

  7. That should have been "God Damn fools"

    Goldman spell check.