Hey, just in case you didn’t notice, the economy is sort of in the shitter.
And that’s a gross understatement.
Gov. Jim Doyle delivered a pretty bleak forecast for the upcoming year in his annual State of the State address at the state Capitol on Wednesday. Clearly, Wisconsin is one of 50 victims of the national economic disaster, and solutions to the problem are not easy.
To his credit, Doyle was blunt when speaking to legislators Wednesday. The speech was honest and smart: No new programs were introduced, and Doyle focused the majority of his speech on the challenges lying ahead. Although he did place blame on Republicans at home and in Washington, Doyle was realistic, not assuring us “everything will be all right” or “the toughest days are behind us.” It won’t, they’re not, and he acknowleged that.
He delivered the numbers and facts straight up — using charts this year to illustrate the terrible numbers. Over 60,000 jobs were lost from December 2007 to December 2008, and Wisconsin’s unemployment rate jumped up — not as high as the national average of 7.1 percent but nevertheless up to 5.8 percent.
So where do we go from here? Doyle is set to deliver his budget to the state Legislature sometime in February, and I am as anxious as anyone to see what he delivers. Naturally, as a University of Wisconsin student, I’m biased to the need for adequate funding for the UW System. But at this rate, it looks like everyone will be hit hard, from UW to K-12 schools to Medicaid and other state programs and agencies.
During his 2006 campaign for re-election, I, as a Badger Herald reporter, stood in Room 118 of my alma mater Brookfield East High School and heard the governor tell students his No. 1 priority is education. Doyle must keep this promise for the sake of the high school students in that room that day but also for the future of the state.
Tuition is going to go up. It has every year, and Chancellor Biddy Martin has alluded that it will again in the coming year. And while the university continues to rely on private funding more than public funding, I sure hope Doyle and the Democratic Legislature don’t use that as an excuse to dramatically cut UW funding.
“What isn’t needed will be cut,” Doyle said during his speech. “And unfortunately, some of what is needed will be cut, too. But that is tough, honest work. Staying even is the new increase, and my priorities are no secret: Good schools for our children, affordable and available health care, police and fire protection for our communities — these are basic expectations people have of their government.”
“And I am not going to say education funding is off limits,” he later added. “But I will not allow cuts that ruin the quality of our classrooms or make universities and technical colleges out of reach for working families.”
I understand the challenges the governor faces in crafting his budget. These are pretty grim times, and even grimmer ones face us, and I applaud Doyle’s frankness in not attempting to paint a better picture of what is to come. But in the coming weeks, Doyle needs to be much more specific and forthcoming with the programs he intends to cut. Instead of letting his spokespeople and other legislators defend his positions, Doyle should step up himself and tell people in the state what they are really in for. Will schools lose some of their quality and will public protection agencies see cuts in their budgets? Realistically, that is an option.
A high school English teacher of mine would write “B.S.” on our papers back in the day, urging us to “be specific.” The picture is painted. The outlook is bleak. Now Doyle needs to “B.S.”
Tom Schalmo ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism.