Letter to the Editor: Current budget situation

Phil Gasper, Interim Associate Dean of Arts & Sciences

Dear Editor,

Sarah Blaskey’s article on the current budget situation (“Crisis mode,” March 30, 2011) provides a good overview of the difficult decisions that are being made at Madison Area Technical College in light of a projected $10.3 million deficit for the next academic year.  Gov. Scott Walker is planning to cut over $1 billion in funding for all levels of education, so every public school, college and university across the state is now facing similar tough choices.

The governor claims that the cuts are unavoidable because Wisconsin faces a $3.6 billion budget deficit over the next two years, and it is only fair that there be “shared sacrifice.” But the governor’s cuts are neither prudent nor fair, and the people being asked to shoulder the greatest part of the burden are those who are least able to do so.

The state budget shortfall is due to the continuing effects of the economic crisis that began in 2008. That crisis was the result of reckless speculation in the financial sector, which took place in the context of decades of economic policies that have benefited the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the population. Those policies have included a massive upward transfer of wealth (the richest 400 Americans now have more assets than the bottom 150 million) and the shredding of government regulations that previously helped to keep things in check.

Since the people at the top caused the crisis and have benefited most from the policies that led to it, it would surely be fair for them to pay most of the costs. But instead, the big banks have been bailed out, tax cuts for the rich have been extended, and it is ordinary Americans who are being made to pay for the crisis.

In Wisconsin, our Republican governor refuses to raise taxes, but he is quite happy for students to pay higher tuition, for teachers, nurses and other public workers to take home smaller paychecks, for the overall quality of education to decline, and for the working poor to lose their health coverage. Many families will also see their incomes decline as a result of the Earned Income Tax Credit being cut.

There would be no budget problem in Wisconsin if corporations in the state paid taxes at the average level for states in the US and if the wealthy paid their fair share of taxes. The richest nine people in Wisconsin are alone worth more than $22 billion. Addressing these issues would be a fair way of dealing with the problem.

Our economic and budget crises also need a strong response from the federal government. We have known since the 1930s that governments should increase spending and run deficits during economic downturns. But President Obama, who many hoped would launch a second New Deal after he was elected, has now embraced the austerity policies of Herbert Hoover instead.

In the 1930s it took demonstrations of the unemployed, mass strikes and political protests that disrupted business as usual to win much needed reforms. It may likely take a similar level of popular mobilization today to defend public education and to enact policies that will benefit the majority of the U.S. population and not just a privileged few at the top.