Amidst the assessments of the budget proposal to split Madison from the UW System, there seems to be little consideration of the “political arithmetic” that has always and will always be a, if not, the primary factor. Although the institution of a Walker-appointed Board of Trustees is a potentially threatening development, it is fundamentally unknown. We do, however, know the composition of the legislature and their perspectives of our campus.
Here are the numbers: There are at most three senators with significant constituencies of UW employees. (Miller, Risser and Erpenbach). They are all Democrats and the most liberal members of that body. There are, at most, nine members of the Assembly who have significant numbers of constituents who are UW-Madison employees. They are also Democrats. Each of these groups of legislators is representative in bodies that are overwhelmingly Republican.
The problem, however, is less partisan than parochial. The UW- System and its 26 campuses and 72 Extension offices have the same, if not more, legislative clout among the other 30 senators and 90 members of the Assembly. Despite the rhetoric about UW-Madison being “the economic engine for the future of the state”, the reality is that legislators are much concerned about the next election cycle, than some unknown future. And far more concerned about their district than the conceptual, state. If they have to make a choice between the state’s interest and their district, the district will always win. Party affiliation will mean far less than proximity to a UW campus.
After the budget is introduced, Joint Finance will review and amend it. How many members of the Committee come from the UW-Madison area? None. From the System area? All. How many are ideologically or culturally comfortable with Madison. Very few, if any. And among those few, is Shilling from (UW) LaCrosse, more likely to “side” with Madison or the System? Or Taylor from (UW) Milwaukee? How will the current occupation of the Capitol by people who are perceived as Madison or from “out of state” affect the deliberations?
When the bill goes to the dominant GOP caucuses who is likely to champion the budget for Madison? I can’t think of anyone. Who is likely to threaten a tuition cap? Nass already has and my guess is that he speaks for many of this colleagues. (The “public authority” does not prevent the legislature from setting tuition. In any case, they effectively set tuition by deciding on the level of the state’s contribution.)
Aside from all of the rhetoric around “flexibility” and “independence” what is actually in the “public authority”? The summary language indicates that UW-Madison actually got very little new authority in purchasing/procurement. It’s effective only in sole source/ sole need which is pretty unusual.
The much touted need for building construction management is limited only when ALL of the funds come from private sources. These are not the sort of changes that will save Madison from the alarm of “devastation” regularly sounded by Martin.
Tuition-setting? The legislature will NEVER give up their authority to have a major, if not the decisive role, in this billion dollar plus source of program revenue and costs to their constituents. Witness, the events in Virginia last week, when the Governor said that the “public authority” UVa (upon which Martin says this model is based) had excessively raised its tuition and in retaliation, cut its state aids by half.
Obviously, my reading of the proposal is that it puts Madison in a very precarious and vulnerable position in the long term. Indeed, we would have to hope that the System shatters and that all of the campuses are forced into autonomy and made to lobby for their own very limited operations. We would still have the problem of the deep animosity of many legislators against the campus but at least we would no longer have to compete with the monolithic System.
One final thought: It is worth noting, that many of the same individuals on the Madison campus who voice the slogan, “In Unity, There is Strength” when it is about someone else’s union, ignore its truth in our circumstance.