As faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, we strongly oppose the budget repair bill and many of the provisions in the proposed biennial budget. We ask the Legislature to reverse the vote for the amended budget repair bill and to significantly alter the biennial budget.
Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill is rife with radical changes, most notably the provisions that essentially eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees. Major policy changes, such as eliminating public union collective bargaining, should have been a centerpiece of a political campaign. Instead, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported, not once during Walker’s campaign did he mention ending collective bargaining rights for both pensions and health care for public employees. There is no public mandate for a policy that was developed in secret.
The current economic troubles and deficits in Wisconsin, while serious, do not warrant draconian measures. In fact, according to a 2011 report issued by Moody Investor Services, which examined combined state debt and pension liabilities, Wisconsin rated in the top quartile of states. We are concerned that an atmosphere of fear of an economic crisis is being used to coerce people into acting quickly and perhaps rashly in search of a resolution to this issue.
We disagree with the priorities, both stated and implicit, in the governor’s budget repair bill and the proposed budget. The amount of new state resources to be devoted to road construction far outstrips the $250 million cuts to the University of Wisconsin System and campuses. Such cuts would be in addition to a loss of a 2 percent contracted raise in June of 2009, as well as an additional 7-10 percent pay cut due to an increase in our required health and pension contributions. At UW-Whitewater and its sister campuses around the state, faculty already make 11 percent to 21 percent less than faculty members at comparable campuses nationwide; the longer one is a faculty member here, the greater the disparity between our salaries and those of our peers in other states.
At UW-Whitewater, we are currently having great difficulty attracting high-quality faculty candidates due to our noncompetitive compensation packages. Understandably, many faculty will no doubt consider leaving if the economic assault on higher education in the state continues. These deep budget cuts to higher education and the ensuing “brain drain” will negatively impact Wisconsin’s higher education as well as the preparations of a well-educated work force and citizenry for years to come. Should not Wisconsin citizens be asked whether they would consider road construction a far higher priority than educating their children and grandchildren?
K-12 education would also suffer disproportionately in Walker’s budget. He recommends reducing state payments to schools by $834 million over the next two years and reducing by 5.5 percent the revenue that schools can generate through local property taxes -- roughly $550 per student. While Walker claims that the requirement that teachers pay more into their pensions and health insurance will compensate for these cuts, an analysis by Andrew Revchosky of UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs reveals that “public school children will suffer the greatest state cut to education since the Great Depression under Gov. Walker’s proposed budget.”
The budget repair bill also targets programs for the poor and negatively impacts Wisconsin’s environment. The Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income working families is slated for a decrease, and Medicaid cuts of $500 million are proposed. The proposed biennial budget eliminates state funding for local recycling programs, reduces protections on the water quality of lakes and streams, and defunds programs to ensure clean and safe drinking water. The quality of our natural environment is not only tied to the health, welfare and very identity of Wisconsinites, it is also closely tied to one of our largest industries, tourism.
The budget repair bill and budget target the middle class for a disproportionate share of the sacrifice. Only one fiscal tool, namely cuts to programs and services, is being placed on the table. We think that other tools such as taxes and debt restructuring ought to be considered. Public money will be redistributed from essential public services, including education, access to health care and environmental protection, to finance even more tax cuts for a privileged minority of businesses. If these proposals pass, real people, including professors, educators, social workers, prison guards and other state employees and public servants, will see reduced overall compensation packages, while tax breaks are given to businesses. Such measures will likely thwart economic recovery and will further exacerbate the growing problem of income disparity in the state.
These budgetary decisions will have consequences for decades to come. The lack of open and reasoned debate on the proposed changes, and the lack of ability to compromise and to discard ideas are not in the best interest of Wisconsin. Therefore, we urge lawmakers to reject the budget repair bill and the budget in their current form. Legislators and their constituents have an obligation to examine alternative budget proposals on how to wisely address the state’s budget deficit and at the same time to find ways to move Wisconsin forward.
This column is a shortened version of a letter to the Wisconsin Legislature approved overwhelmingly by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater faculty. A march from Whitewater to the Capitol was planned to hand deliver the letter to lawmakers. The “Truth to Power Pilgrimage” was scheduled to end around 10 a.m. Saturday, March 26, at the Capitol.