The most important question of the dozen or so asked of the Chancellor at the Feb.25th meeting of the Board of Regents was posed by Brent Smith of (UW) La Crosse. He asked Martin, (summarizing) “Would you object to having this proposal that is now included in the budget bill introduced as a separate bill?”
She said she did not think the proposal for a Public Authority should be a separate bill because the revenue cut will be devastating to the University and it needs the “flexibility’ now to better solve the problems ahead of us.
(archive of meeting) http://www.wisconsin.edu/bor/borstream/2011/index.htm
In this exchange, Martin has decided that the “Budget Bill” strategy is the best method in that it is the quickest legislative route to passage and enactment. If the Public Authority legislation is removed from the budget and then introduced as a separate bill it would likely take more time because it would work its way through the legislative process (committee hearings, floor debate, etc.) only after the budget is passed.
In almost all other “budget years”, the Governor introduces a budget some with some major and some minor policy issues. After the budget is introduced, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau prepares a memo to the Committee identifying the non-fiscal items. Shortly thereafter, a few newspapers write editorials criticizing the process of “sneaking in” changes in law that are only indirectly or only peripherally relate to policy issues and that deserve a full hearing. Often the first order of business of Joint Finance is to remove the non-fiscal/ primarily policy items from the budget.
This year, the Fiscal Bureau sent its memo to the Joint Finance Committee duly noting that the Budget contained many non-fiscal items most notably, the fissure of the UW-System and the Public Authority status of the Madison campus.
Also, newspapers have begun to editorialize on the impropriety of having a major policy decision of this magnitude included in the budget. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has editorialized against it and on 3/7/11, the arch-conservative, Beloit Daily News noted:
He (Walker) would spin off the University of Wisconsin-Madison and perhaps the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and create other financing questions for higher education. Good idea? Unknown. Maybe unknowable, at this time. We’ve said it before: Major policy transformations should not be swept along in the rushing current of a budget bill. Give such matters the consideration they deserve.
While most of the usual events have transpired, Joint Finance Committee has not removed these non-policy items from the budget and does not seem interested in doing so. They seem quite content to take orders from the Governor and do what they are told.
In one of the volumes of web postings, publications and forums disseminated by the Chancellor’s office in support of the NBPP is the following fictional dialogue between a questioner and an anonymous respondent:
Why are you rushing this thing through Walker’s budget and only giving people a few days to address their grievances on it? Shouldn’t the public have more of an ultimate say over their university’s destiny?
The governor has made the decision to include this proposal in his biennial budget bill. All portions of the bill will be subject to public hearings statewide, and we will continue to engage the campus community in a discussion over the merits of the proposal, consistent with the principles adopted by a campus working group that the New Badger Partnership initiative be vetted by a wide range of appropriate university groups.
I have to give credit to the Chancellor’s publicist for including a question that clearly is not answered. The first sentence, “The Governor has made the decision…. his budget bill.” Is intended to have us believe that the Chancellor either did not have a strong advisory role in “the decision” or that she might not have agreed with this strategy and want the proposal heard as a bill. This is, of course, inconsistent with her statement at the Regents meeting.
More troubling is the attempt at disinformation in the second, “All portions of the bill will be subject to public hearings statewide…” While there will be a half dozen public hearings statewide on the budget bill, these hearings cover all of the aspects of the 1400 page document: big budget cuts in school and local aids to the termination of the state arts program and hundreds of items in between. These hearings tend to be huge “cattle calls” of public interest groups where individual speakers generally get two minutes (literally) to give their point of view usually without any comment from members of the Joint Finance Committee.
The Chancellor’s statement then continues with the intention of continuing to “engage the campus community.” The issue here is that the use of a budget bill mechanism does not engage the state community. Amidst the historic controversy over the end of collective bargaining and the upcoming fight over the loss in school funding, the loss of the “flagship” to the rest of the “fleet” is likely to go unnoticed. Given the importance of the issue to the state, the System and the campus this should be a topic of lively and inclusive debate.
After Walker’s need to rush through the end of collective bargaining in a “budget repair bill” isn’t it time to think twice about politicians who assert the need to rush policies and avoid “lengthy debate” for our own good?