Independence Day

On the same day Gov. Scott Walker finally formed a 527 political action committee, a portion of his upcoming budget hit desks in the state capitol: another stab at UW System reforms.

First: the PAC. It’s considered a milestone step in the formation of a nationwide political apparatus that will allow limitless fundraising. Now that Walker has one, with Rick Wiley as executive director, there’s no doubt he’s going to run. As if there was a doubt before.

Back home and just days after Walker told conservatives in Iowa that America needs “big, bold” leadership, the news is reporting Walker’s proposal for a horse-trade with the UW System in his upcoming budget that will overhaul the system’s relationship with the state government.

In exchange for a whopping 13 percent budget cut systemwide, the system will be re-defined into a “public authority,” where the legislature has much less control over how the system operates and spends money, such as how much it pays its faculty and staff.

This arrangement makes sense. I attended Viterbo University for my first two years of college, a private university that receives no state aid and therefore is limited only by the regulations foisted on them by the feds via federal student aid. The state rightly has little or no say.

For the remaining 35 years of my college education I went to UW-La Crosse, where I became the student newspaper’s editor and covered two rounds of deep budget cuts by Jim Doyle. It made no sense to me that politicians would slash funding but give up none of their power.

Eventually, I thought, taxpayers will contribute virtually nothing yet politicians in the legislature will still control the most byzantine of minutiae like where UW-Stout buys its kitchen rags. With declining support from the legislature, the system starts looking like a private university system – it only makes sense for the legislature to have less control over the system.

It’s unfortunate for tuition payers that the cuts will be so deep, but at least this time the system gets something in exchange.

About the writer: Chris Rochester has worked in communications and finance for a state Senate and congressional campaign, consulted on numerous Assembly and local races, and has held leadership roles in his local Republican Party. He's communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.