I listened to the banter - some of it coming through gritted teeth - as the legislative Conference Committee resumed work on the state budget Tuesday. It didn't sound like a lot of fun. They are all our public servants, and their work could be characterized as heroic as they negotiate a budget that must keep Wisconsin citizens safe and healthy and our economy moving forward.
There are many points of interest, large and small, but one miniscule line provides a window that opens onto a larger view of the danger of false economies in assembling a document of this nature. The Assembly version of the budget would cut all funding to the Wisconsin Humanities Council (WHC) - that is, cut $72,600 or just one one-hundred-thousandth of 1 percent of the governor's biennial budget and, in so doing, lose more than $700,000 in federal money that attaches to that agency.
We have few ways to draw $10 down from the federal government with only $1 invested by the state, fewer avenues still to assist communities in every corner of Wisconsin in bolstering their education opportunities through WHC programming offered in the schools, libraries, small museums and historical agencies. To cut funding where we are guaranteed that every single penny goes into critical programming and serves as a powerful magnet for additional grant dollars makes no sense at all.
But then, it makes no sense either to cut schools by $127 million and school aids by $85 million when a recent report indicates more than one-quarter of state school districts have been forced to consider consolidation or dissolution because of mounting financial woes - before the Assembly's proposed cuts.
As we account for and consider the implications of allocation of our hard-earned tax dollars, we must bring higher education into this equation as well. The Assembly proposal would significantly reduce UW System faculty compensation reserves, a near guarantee of a mass exodus of the central asset of this institution that drives our state economy. Additional cuts to UW campuses totaling $125 million and $13 million axed from direct support to technical colleges certainly presage problems of access at precisely the time the business community is wondering where to find more college grads to fuel their growth.
We are living through an extraordinary time, all of us with a front row seat for a sea change in the economy. In Wisconsin, we bring our strong agricultural and manufacturing base to a competitive position in a 21st century global economy with the kind of innovations that are the hallmark of what is now primarily a knowledge-based economy. Knowledge replaces physical resources as the driver of growth.
We create the matrix of opportunity for business here - the new infrastructure for growth - by investing in strengthening the programs and number of graduates of our institutions of higher education. Government's role and need for investments here is no longer debatable: now we must decide the best strategies to enroll and graduate more students, retain them in our state and reverse the brain drain.
In the end, it is all about developing the workforce we need to hold our competitive edge in this 21st century economy. Encourage our legislative leadership to resist the seduction of false economies, cuts that are destined to set us back. Why can't we be the first state in the nation to move people from the liability to the asset side of the balance sheet?
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton is a member of the executive committee of the National Lieutenant Governors Association.