Republicans sought to remove local accountability and leave funding for technical colleges up to the whims of lawmakers in Madison each session.
Had things gone just a little bit differently in Madison this week, you would be reading about how the state Assembly passed a radical attack on Wisconsin’s technical colleges with virtually no public notice. But Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) got his hand caught in the cookie jar and had to pull back plans to fast-track a bill that imperiled funding for these schools that make up an essential part of Wisconsin job creation.
It all started with the Assembly Ways and Means Committee taking up a bill last Thursday about abolishing the personal property tax—even though it was already included in the state’s new revenue sharing agreement between legislative Republicans and Gov. Tony Evers. That’s why it seemed odd to have the bill being brought up in committee.
This is where it gets sneaky. Committee chair Rep. John Macco (R-Ledgeview) introduced an amendment that gutted the language in the bill and replaced it with all new language—from Vos—that had nothing to do with the original text. The new language would have removed the ability of the boards for each Wisconsin Technical College System school to levy taxes, which fund a big part of their operations. The proposal would have replaced that property tax funding with state aid, which is much more volatile and political. This whole episode is troubling in two ways.
First, nobody was asking for this. It came out of the blue and Republicans rushed to pass this radical change with no public notice about it—no public hearing for the technical colleges and other interested parties to review and offer comment. The bill passed out of committee on a party-line vote and was originally put on the Assembly calendar for Wednesday of this week.
Second, even if Republicans had followed the normal legislative process, this idea was rotten from the beginning. Rather than be accountable to local taxpayers, the technical colleges would suddenly find their futures tethered to the whims of partisan politicians in Madison. How’s that working out for the University of Wisconsin System? Not well at all.
The nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum reports that while the Wisconsin Technical College System and other two-year schools are among the top five for state funding per pupil, the UW System and other four-year schools are in the bottom 10—as Republicans politicize higher education budgets in order to satisfy their base, rather than look out for the good of the whole state. (For example, they’re currently demanding that the UW budget be cut—despite a massive state surplus!—because Vos doesn’t like that the UW is supporting racial justice and opportunity.)
The bill was quietly pulled from Wednesday’s Assembly calendar, though it could always be brought back when folks aren’t paying attention.
This sneak attack is only the latest example of the arrogance that comes when one party has been in power too long. Perhaps this episode will nudge Republicans into showing better respect to their constituents. But given other recent events, we think we’re likely to see more partisan games instead.
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