National Perspectives on Walker's Proposed UW System Cuts

Feb 9, 2015

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One observer says presidential hopefuls might raise the issue, thinking it could hurt Gov. Walker in polls. Another stunned that Wisconsin is talking cuts.

Gov. Walker's proposed budget would cut state funding for the UW System by a record 13%, while largely freeing it from legislative control. The plan might give the appointed UW Board of Regents more oversight. 

Charles Franklin, Director of the Marquette Law School Poll, is watching the 2016 race for president develop, with Walker seemingly interested in being the GOP nominee. Franklin says, in the realm of presidential politics, state budget issues - such as proposed cuts to university systems, typically don’t stand alone.

“We have to remember, that in presidential contests, it's pretty rare for a candidate, a governor running for the presidency, to be called on to explain details of their state budgets, when campaigning in Iowa, or New Hampshire or somewhere else.

"On the other hand, the governor talks a lot in his speeches about having inherited a large deficit and fixed that problem and balanced the budget. So I think it's possible that he would be questioned in the national media or by other candidates, about just how good is his fiscal stewardship, but I would return to the point that state budget issues rarely become a central part of presidential campaigns.

"I think from a political point of view, we have to wait a while to see how other candidates may want to directly or implicitly critique Gov. Walker.  Now that he's shot to the lead in the Iowa poll and at least one New Hampshire poll, he will certainly become more of a target for criticism. Those other candidates will be looking for a variety of ways to critique his actions, as governor," Franklin said.

We also asked Dan Hurley of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, how higher education circles are viewing the changes Gov. Walker wants to make to the UW System. Hurley is AASCU Associate Vice President for Government Relations and State Policy.

"It has made a lot of eyes roll in the entire national higher ed community. It's pretty unfounded, both in terms of the magnitude, the severity of the proposed state budget cuts for higher education and then equally as significant was the strike-through on the historic mission of the University of Wisconsin (System), which is now being backtracked on, but both of those issues really stand out and have shaken actually a lot of higher education leaders throughout the country," Hurley said.

Hurley says the reason the proposed UWS cuts trouble higher education interests elsewhere, is not for fear other states will do the same, but rather the fact that it is Wisconsin facing potential reductions.  

"Nationally and historically, Wisconsin is one of those states, along with California, along with North Carolina, that has lifted higher education as publicly-funded, public good.

"We're in the period now, not to say that the recession is all behind us but, by and large, most states cut higher education significantly during and after the recession. Most states are well beyond that and are entering a period of reinvestment in higher ed. With the sole exception of Louisiana, which a lot of that (cuts to higher education) was driven by declining oil prices, Wisconsin absolutely stands out in terms of the severity of proposed cuts for higher education," Hurley said.