Faced with a two billion dollar budget shortfall, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has announced a proposal to cut higher ed costs in an attempted quid-pro-quo with the University of Wisconsin system. Here’s local news Channel 3000 on the idea:
UW had asked for an increase in funding of $95 million over the next two years — money that it argued was needed given that Walker was calling for another two-year tuition freeze. Walker is going forward with the tuition freeze, but is calling for the $300 million cut in exchange for something university leaders have wanted for years: more independence. […]Walker is proposing turning the 13 four-year campuses and 13 two-year colleges that comprise the UW System into a public authority, a structure that would give the university more flexibility over a wide array of issues that are currently mandated by state law.
University leaders are going to try for a smaller cut, and Walker is open to negotiation on the amount. Tying budget cuts to reforms that university officials might welcome is smart, and it may help Walker avoid some of the backlash that has hit other governors attempting higher ed cuts, like Kansas’s Sam Brownback. Moves like this point to why Scott Walker may be the “most underestimated” of the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls. First, he has a record of success on some issues important to his party, and this latest proposal shows him willing to be pragmatic in how he achieves his goals. Moreover, as Ben Domenech has pointed out in his newsletter, the Transom, Walker can authentically relate to the middle class in a way many other politicians cannot.Most importantly, however, he has already taken on and beaten the public unions, so he’s got huge credibility with the GOP base (or as Domenech put it, Walker has built a throne out of the skulls of his enemies). This exempts him from some of the litmus-test politics, and means the base will cut him some slack on other hot button issues because they believe he is a true fighter who “gets it.” That kind of loyalty is a big advantage; GOP candidates often lose ground with the wider public as they scramble awkwardly to manage the various shibboleths on the right wing. “Look at my throne of skulls” is a much better basis for a campaign than running around trying to get various boxes checked.