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Budget statement from Chancellor John Wiley

June 1, 2005

Statement from Chancellor John D. Wiley on the Tentative University Budget Approved June 1 by the Joint Finance Committee

“I am virtually certain that most people in Wisconsin are tired of hearing about the state’s continuing budget deficit, and wish fervently that the seemingly endless complaints of state agency heads, teachers, local government and others about the destructive consequences of declining state support would simply go away. I live in Wisconsin, and I feel that way. But as chancellor for what has been a great public research university for more than 150 years, I don’t have the luxury of simply sitting back and watching the world go by, and I do not believe it is in the interest of a single resident of this state to do so, either.

We are witnessing the systematic dismantling of public higher education in this state, a function of a lack of collective will among our public policy makers – governor and legislators alike – to set aside partisan differences and address the long-simmering structural problems that year after year plague public funding of social, civic and educational programs. We continue to endure band-aid ‘solutions’ to a problem that continues to expand, predictably resulting in biennial political confrontations between the governor and the Legislature over how best to trick the problem into becoming someone else’s worry a few years down the road. The road, unfortunately, is ruinous, and we’re already well down a path from which it will take years to recover.

Let me provide one example that should resonate with every resident of this state. Presently, per capita income in Wisconsin ranks 21st nationally, while Minnesota’s ranks eighth. The single best instrument available for increasing individual earnings is a college degree. As an example, those with a college degree in Wisconsin average earnings 69.6 percent greater than do those without. The growing divergence in personal income between residents of Wisconsin and Minnesota becomes more understandable, then, when it is noted that the percentage of Minnesota residents with college degrees is increasingly outdistancing those with degrees in Wisconsin, at present by almost 8 percent of overall state population, respectively.

So, in view of this clear trend, where does Wisconsin stand in comparison to its western neighbor? The Minnesota Legislature is considering a 12 percent increase in funding for public higher education, presumably to continue to grow the number of residents with college degrees. The Wisconsin Legislature, grappling with a proposed budget from Gov. Jim Doyle that relied heavily on politically volatile transfers of money from sources such as the Patients’ Compensation Fund, is proposing a $25 million additional cut in funding for public higher education, which will be added to an effective $65 million cut imposed by the governor through mandatory reallocation of university funds. Small wonder, then, that the gap between Wisconsin and Minnesota appears to be escalating.

I don’t have magic solutions to propose, except to appeal to Gov. Doyle, the Legislature and the citizenry of Wisconsin to demand creative, bipartisan leadership that will forge long-term solutions that benefit the health of the state, rather than mortgage its future and consign it to mediocrity among its neighbors. In this regard, I do personally want to thank those in the Legislature who most visibly made this attempt, working to preserve the viability of the university against a series of what I believe were uninformed and even punitive gestures proposed by some of their colleagues. Speaker John Gard, Representatives Dean Kaufert, Michael Huebsch and David Ward, and Senators Scott Fitzgerald, Alberta Darling, Dan Kapanke and Sheila Harsdorf were, in my view, particularly resolute and creative in the face of long odds. We owe them our gratitude for reducing the amount of the budget cut that would be added on to the governor’s already significant proposed reduction, thereby mitigating to an important extent the impact of yet another blow to the Wisconsin public higher education system that formerly was a model to the country.

These individuals also spearheaded efforts to endorse key provisions of the governor’s budget that were supportive of the long-term interests of the university, including our ability to recruit and retain high-quality faculty. And perhaps most importantly, they allowed us to retain the tuition flexibility necessary to counter the cumulative loss in state support. I also need to express my appreciation to Gov. Doyle, whose proposed budget instantly became a lightning rod for controversy, in large part because of some of the assumptions made about select sources of funding, but which also recognized the imperative of beginning to build back some of the strength and vitality of our public university system.

Put simply, public higher education in Wisconsin is in crisis. The vitality of the academic institutions that are key to the future of the state, and to the hopes and dreams of innumerable Wisconsin families, is significantly in peril. Let’s use the example of those individuals mentioned above and commit to doing more than wringing our hands and watching dreams and prospects fade. Partisan bickering and ‘blame-the-other-guy’ rhetoric needs to be shelved, and we all need to roll up our sleeves up and work on long-term answers to the chronic structural challenges infecting the state’s budget. We should demand this, each of us, and not rest until we see it happen.”