Democrats said Thursday it’s not UW-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank who’s bringing Washington, D.C.-style politics to the University of Wisconsin System funding debate.
Instead, they said, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP leaders of the state’s powerful budget committee are playing politics.
“If the co-chairs are concerned about ‘Washington politics’ in Wisconsin, they don’t need to look any further than the East Wing of the State Capitol,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a statement.
Shilling was referring to Gov. Scott Walker, who’s laying the groundwork for an all-but-certain campaign for president. She fired back against a statement put out by Joint Finance Committee leaders Alberta Darling and John Nygren on Wednesday. In it, they accused Blank, a former member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, of “bringing Washington politics to Madison.”
In both statements, it’s unclear exactly what the lawmakers mean by “Washington politics” or how they think they’re being used in the debate over Walker’s proposal to cut the University of Wisconsin System by $300 million over the next two years while splitting it off from state control to be run by a new public authority made up of Walker appointees.
Darling, R-River Hills, and Nygren, R-Marinette, criticized Blank for her aggressive public push against the cuts, the most severe in System history, as too large for her campus and others to handle without laying off employees and cutting programs.
They drew a contrast between her approach and that of former chancellor Biddy Martin, who in 2011 applauded a proposal by Walker to cut her campus’ funding by $125 million in exchange for autonomy both from the state and the System. The proposal eventually died under fierce opposition by other System leaders and Martin left her job after just a few years on campus.
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The 2011 proposal would have cut UW-Madison by slightly more than the current Walker proposal with a major difference: then it was not tied to a tuition freeze, allowing the university substantial additional revenue. This year’s version would include a tuition freeze, resulting in four consecutive years of flat tuition revenue from in-state undergraduates.
Shilling did not hold back in responding to their claims.
“I am deeply disturbed with the partisan rhetoric used by co-chairs Nygren and Darling in their personal attacks on Chancellor Blank,” she said in her statement. “The citizens of Wisconsin expect better than cheap political shots from the co-chairs of the Finance Committee.”
Other Democrats joined Shilling on Thursday in condemning the remarks.
Darling and Nygren issued a statement Thursday saying that the UW-Madison faculty voted to endorse Martin’s plan for more autonomy in 2011.
Walker has fashioned himself as a strong anti-Washington candidate in building his presidential campaign, telling national Republican leaders and voters in early primary states that he’d bring an outsider’s voice and perspective to the nation’s capital.