The headline does not refer to the feeling UW–Platteville fans got by seeing the Pioneers fall one point short of beating the number-one-ranked men’s basketball team in the NCAA Division III, UW–Whitewater, on Wednesday. (Even though the Pioneer colors are blue and orange.)
The headline refers to the feeling on campus at having to make at least one, and probably two, rounds of budget cuts. The series that has gotten more attention has been the proposed $300 million in UW System budget cuts, which would, based on past history, require $4.5 million in UW–Platteville cuts on top of the $5.7 million that will have to be made for reasons stated on page 1 of your favorite weekly newspaper. UW–Platteville is Platteville’s biggest employer, so when UW–Platteville sneezes, everyone in Platteville feels the chill.
Readers who don’t reflexively hate Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans (and we do have those who hold such sentiments among our readership, as you’ll notice on this page next week) might wonder why Walker would propose chopping the UW System budget, particularly when a college education practically defines the term “middle class.”
Well, here’s one reason: Even with the tax cuts made since Walker became governor, Wisconsin ranks in the top quarter nationally in total (federal, state and local) taxes, fifth nationally in state and local taxes, and near the top 10 in business taxes. Wisconsin voters have had the chance to choose, or reject, the option of cutting taxes and cutting spending, and they’ve chosen it for the last three elections.
Another is, to be blunt, the growing divide between the political poles. Neither political party listens to the other, and neither considers the other’s ideas worth even considering. The number of under-the-breath comments about Republicans at the listening session of Sen. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green) and Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City) at the Platteville Public Library shows fundamental disrespect of a lot of people for those with different political opinions from theirs.
There is also a disconnect between government and the people who pay for it — taxpayers, which include government employees — that apparently isn’t getting any better. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median family income in Grant County in 2013 was $46,963, and 16 percent of Grant County residents were below poverty level. To use a non-higher-education example: Whoever will be the new city manager in Platteville will make more than twice that amount. The reality of UW–Platteville faculty being underpaid compared to faculty at other universities isn’t very persuasive to people who live paycheck to paycheck, or even to those looking at major debt to fund a college education.
That disconnect fuels some of the resentment toward government generally and higher education specifically. Anyone who has been in Platteville more than one year can notice that there are a lot of Platteville residents who see the university as a mixed blessing at best, due to the prevalence of rental housing (not all of which is in great shape), the perceived inordinate influence of UW–Platteville upon city government, and what I refer to as Stupid Student Tricks, the result of which show up in various parts of this newspaper, particularly page 8B. (There are people outside Platteville who look at Platteville as like Madison, except for substituting hills for lakes.) Those people don’t generally see the value of, for instance, Friday’s Jazz Festival on campus, which includes performances with area high school students and a concert Friday night.
Indeed, the UW System hasn’t done a very good job of selling the value of a world-class university in Madison and the UW System, including UW–Extension, to those whose taxes pay for the UW System. The increased lifetime earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree are well known, and yet apparently unpersuasive. The improvements in quality of life in living in a college town seem obvious to me, but apparently not to everyone.
It’s unclear to me why UW–Platteville should be punished for being properly entrepreneurial — that is, figuring out how to not require more government money. The Tri-State Initiative has helped make UW–Platteville the fastest growing campus for several years. The UW–Platteville Real Estate Foundation got new dormitories built without having to go through the state building process. UW–Platteville graduates engineers, and engineers are in such demand that UW–Stout wants (wrongly) to build its own engineering school.
If you don’t want to see UW–Platteville budget cuts, the people to talk to are Marklein, Tranel and new Rep. Todd Novak (R–Dodgeville). Their votes will help decide the fate of UW–Platteville, Platteville’s largest employer and economic development engine.