One tried-and-true criterion of dystopian societies — immortalized in?sci-fi B-movies aplenty (which your friendly local Four Star employee?will happily rattle off for you) — is the “perpetual construction and?renovation.” ?In an effort to mask the futility of perfectionism, the?logic goes, bureaucrats will leave no space undeveloped, no?unrequested building un-built, no unaffordable construction project?unfunded.
And since students these days just flat aren’t getting their deserved?fill of dystopian literature — and buying a red cup has a less?complex payoff than renting “Brazil” from Netflix — our state budget?committee continues to show us how it’s done. And God bless them for?it. At the top of everyone’s wish list this Christmas was obviously a?new $47 million nursing facility at UW. The facility was in such high?demand that no administrators asked for it and Gov. Jim Doyle (not?exactly the prototypical fiscal conservative) omitted the?clearly-necessary building from his budget request. So the budget?committee, of course, listened to the clear signs of nursing?catastrophe and approved the borrowing of $28 million to fulfill the?public wishes. Good lord.
I doubt that Doyle or the Legislature will approve this?project, but the gesture should not go unnoticed by the public. Once?again, construction is being proposed at UW whose relative urgency?falls somewhere between replacing your shower squeegee and preparing a?state funeral for David Carradine. ?This kind of thing is called?”pork,” if you have any doubt — legislators given discretion to fund?any number of pet projects without much regard for public need or?affordability. We heard a lot about it in 2008, and the Democratic?Party spent a lot of time promising to — you know — get rid of this?shit. Clearly the priorities of national parties are blissfully?ignored by their state-level surrogates.?According to news reports, your elected representatives on the budget?committee, exhausted from a late-night debate over funding priorities,?saw fit to compromise on a facility that was not on anyone’s radar.
The brainchild of this project was Senator Judy Robson, D-Beloit,?described by the Wisconsin State Journal as “a former nurse,” which?apparently gives the good senator license to slowly destroy the?state’s vulnerable bond rating. The nominal reasoning for this is a?very-real “nursing shortage” in the state. This is the hidden genius?of pork — it is almost always framed in relatively unobjectionable?terms, by people with the occupational street cred to propose fixing?specific problems, leaving opponents looking like evil bastards who?are militantly opposed to making peoples’ lives better. ?Who can argue?with addressing a nursing shortage, after all? ?Who can argue against ?having enough nurses?
Well, I can, in this case, because I possess a modest understanding of?what democracy is and what it isn’t. ?Pork is the opposite of?democracy. ?It sucks the life out of democracy and leaves decisions to?the bureaucrats. Even under relatively-tranquil democratic?conditions, the relationship between the University of Wisconsin and?taxpayers is frigid enough without this recent partisan movement to?spend money on the university without meaningful internal discussion.?And the stupidity of this gesture would be breathtaking enough in?isolation, without a backdrop of UW-supported building projects whose?own frivolousness could fill another 10 columns. These late-night?unsolicited government shopping sprees, down all the wrong aisles for?all the wrong reasons, deserve more contempt than this writer is?capable of expressing.