Sunday, April 24, 2011

Of deals, devils and details: Budget reality check

Note: The guest post below comes from someone concerned about the move for 'public authority' for UW-Madison.

The politics of public authority for UW-Madison seem to be unraveling. People who’re talking to key Republican lawmakers and their staffers are hearing things like “non-starter”, “no way” and “ain’t gonna happen”. The Chancellor has ginned up a lot of support on campus and in Madison, but statewide politics will likely kill this proposal.

But this deal is a monster and a lot of monsters don’t die easy. Let me give you a silver bullet for your pistol in case you meet the monster in a dark alley: This deal with Walker has been sold around vague flexibilities. The details we know, in fact, are mostly serious downsides, and many people aren’t even aware of them. Consider the budget implications of these two tidbits, one you may and one you may not know:
(1) In previous budget cuts, we’ve taken 40% of the total cut to UW-System, but this cut is 50-50 between us and System. That’s an extra $30 million base cut annually. No projected gains from flexibilities shows how that amount could be made up. The projections shown at the Faculty Senate and elsewhere basically conceal this fact: They project our budget as if it were starting from where we are now, not from $30 million less. How long would it take to recoup that amount in the base budget?

(2) We would no longer have a state pay plan. That means that our block grant would in the future not include any money for pay increases. Any. Ever. As salaries increase, we’d have to cover that from our own new monies. A 1% raise for the whole campus costs about $5 million right now, with benefits. So, a modest 3% raise would mean generating an extra $15 million per year in perpetuity. Chart that out over 10 years on a spreadsheet!
Bottom line, the current proposal guarantees us cuts, far deeper than if we stay with System.

Worse, there is not any of feigned promise of insurance of any kind against future cuts. The Virginia model contained the kinds of guarantees that Wisconsin’s proposal lacks. And the legislature still came back and cut them further.

There’s a real way forward here, one the legislature and the System may be willing to pursue: Much of the flexibility that people argue for — and much of which would be uncontroversially useful to our campus — can be achieved without public authority. And without the extremely damaging consequences outlined above. We need a concrete set of flexibilities that we can agree on, which will work for us within System and which the legislature can accept.

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