U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, says the governor’s arguments that he has helped college students with a tuition freeze is “putting lipstick on the pig.”
Speaking to The Badger Herald editors and the editorial board last week, Pocan said while Gov. Scott Walker’s tuition freeze is beneficial to students, it leaves the University of Wisconsin System in a tough financial position.
“If the state of Wisconsin doesn’t invest money on the UW System, it puts pressure on tuition, and then if he freezes tuition, you put double pressure on the UW,” Pocan said. “I’m not advocating for raising tuition, but I’m advocating for the state putting a proper share into the UW, given how much that is an economic engine for the rest of the state.”
Pocan said he agreed with the UW System Board of Regents request to boost funding for the UW System.
The regents in August asked Walker for $95.2 million in additional funding while he crafts the state’s budget for the next two years.
“My fear has always been [going] from a world class institution to one of the best in the country to eventually, ‘Hey, they’ve got a heck of a football team,’” Pocan said. “That’s the slippery slope of not investing in your system.”
Pocan has introduced several bills on college affordability, including one that lets borrowers refinance their student loans with lower interest rates.
He acknowledged many Democratic proposals are focused on those who already took out student loans, rather than addressing college costs for future students. But he said Democrats are working with the U.S. Department of Education to reduce college costs, while many Republicans are suggesting nothing.
“We’ve been dealing more, I’ll agree, on the late end, but we’re at least trying to address the front end and trying to figure out some ways around that,” Pocan said. “But I haven’t seen some Republicans in Congress any way offer any suggestions of how to [make] college more affordable.”
Pocan continued to raise concerns over sequestration cuts hitting the National Institutes of Health, which funds a large chunk of research at UW. He said the federal budget cuts likely won’t go away, so he introduced a bill asking the NIH to prioritize its budget to focus on helping younger researchers.
Pocan introduced the Next Generation Research Act last month saying the lack of NIH funding has turned young researchers away. He said the bill could pass through the “do-nothing Congress” because it does not “add a bunch of dollars” to the NIH, but rather asks the agency to prioritize its funds.
Pocan also commented on the controversy over Democrat Mary Burke’s jobs plan, parts of which Buzzfeed reported were copied from past Democratic candidates. Burke, the former state commerce secretary, is running against Walker in the November elections.
“Was it silly and dumb? They shouldn’t have done that, yeah,” Pocan said. “They should’ve put more thought into that. But is it a giant issue? No. The real issue is Scott Walker promised 250,000 jobs. He’s not even close to that number. We’re last in the Midwest for job creation. That’s all the stuff he doesn’t want you to look at.”