Language Politics

By Nicholas Fleisher

Done and done

Today it’s official: no new revenue.  The much-hoped-for one-time cash infusion that Republican legislators were counting on in order to paper over the budget disaster they’ve created will not be forthcoming.  Despite having crossed all their fingers and toes, the Spring Revenue Fairy left them nothing.  How disillusioning!  It’s the kind of thing that makes some people stop believing in trickle-down economics.

With the rude if predictable demise of the fantasy, the media has wasted no time in trotting out the “tough choices” narrative to frame the late-stage budget negotiations that will take place in its wake.  Should you for some reason fail to appreciate the abject dishonesty of this narrative, allow Chuck Rybak to disabuse you.  Here’s a rule of thumb: the degree to which the media is carrying the GOP’s water with this framing is directly proportional to the pissiness of the beat writers’ tweets when they get called out.

Walker and legislative leaders immediately announced that they would move some money around to spare public K-12 from the $127 million in cuts that Walker proposed in February.  The details apparently involve monkeying with the timing of scheduled payments, not coming up with any actual new money, with the result that there will be an even bigger hole to fill two years down the road.  Guess where Walker plans to be then?

Where does this leave the UW System?  Can the state ship a briefcase full of cash across the International Date Line for us, too?  Alas, things are more or less where they were: JFC Co-Chair John Nygren still says he wants to reduce the cut, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald still says the UW can go to hell, and Scott Walker and Ray Cross are still talking about flexibilities.

Speaking of which, the other big “no” of the week was announced yesterday: no public authority.  It’s hardly a surprise at this point, but it’s still good to see the proposal officially dead in this budget.  It was never a serious idea.  It was never clear why the touted savings and flexibilities couldn’t be achieved via statute, or what purpose the proposal served other than to distract attention from the massive proposed budget cut.

What remains very much up in the air at this point is the status of Chapter 36.  In Walker’s initial budget proposal, the creation of the public authority went hand in hand with the near-total excision of Chapter 36 from state law: the UW System, tenure, shared governance, Downer Woods, everything.  All of it was to be put in the hands of the Board of Regents.  Now that the public authority is off the table, the only sensible thing for the legislature to do is to retain Chapter 36 intact, in its entirety, in state law.  You don’t push someone out of the plane when you’ve just thrown away their parachute.

Don’t be surprised if they take a quick stab at stitching a new one, though.  JFC now says it won’t send the budget back to the full legislature until the end of May.  UW is slated to be one of the last items voted on.  That’s lots of time for bad ideas to be floated, but also lots of time for UW supporters to organize and lobby legislators.

If nothing else, the existential uncertainty surrounding Chapter 36 should light a fire under the faculty at Madison: the System flagship is the campus best able to shield itself from budgetary threats (even if to the detriment of the rest of us), but on matters of tenure and shared governance, no one stands apart.

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