Last weekend, students and faculty shared in their dismay over proposed cuts to the University of Wisconsin System. Eventually, that dismay turned to anger – at least for a moment – when news broke that Gov. Scott Walker also wanted to strip the Wisconsin Idea from UW’s mission statement. While the cuts deserve our attention, it is overshadowing some of the even darker aspects of Walker’s budget which hurt some of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable: the elderly, the poor and the environment.
This year in his budget, Walker is resurrecting an idea from his 2011 budget proposal that would scale back funding for Wisconsin’s successful SeniorCare program. The change would require the elderly to first apply for federal benefits before using the state program. Although it saves the state $15 million, it would require many of the 85,000 program users to enroll in the costlier, less efficient federal program. If Walker can afford handing out a $280 million tax cut, perhaps there’s $15 million to spare for an ever-growing pool of low-income senior citizens.
If you’re young and poor, the news isn’t much better. Walker is championing his proposal to drug test all recipients of welfare in the state. He’s provided little explanation for the policy, as similar attempts in other states have either been ruled unconstitutional or lose the state more money than they save. This is exactly what happened when Florida tried to implement a similar policy in 2011. In fact, this idea is already starting to face opposition. Recently, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi vowed to sue Walker on the grounds that the policy violates freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. The resulting court battles will cost the state thousands, eating up valuable time and resources. Walker’s move is purely political, another line on his resumé for his upcoming presidential ambitions.
As an environmental science major, Walker’s budget plans for the Department of Natural Resources were perhaps the most startling to me. Walker is cutting nearly 20 jobs from the DNR’s Bureau of Scientific Services, a 31 percent cut in the total number of budgeted positions in the department. Considering the environmental uncertainties associated with Wisconsin projects like the Enbridge pipeline and the ever-present threat of climate change, we should be increasing the number of researchers working for the public, not decreasing it. At a time when we should be following the examples of the federal government and taking environmentally-responsible action, Walker is marching us down a road towards a dirtier Wisconsin.
Walker’s proposals, if successfully passed, will hurt. They will hurt for seniors searching for a secure retirement, for the less fortunate who will be dehumanized as a result of the proposed drug testing and for the environment. As Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said in an interview, “This budget isn’t good for students, for the middle class, for the retired. It’s not good for anyone but those at the top.” (Full disclosure: I interned in Sargent’s office)
However, hope isn’t lost yet, as the budget will go through many rounds of edits and changes before it’s passed later this year. Students and their families can impact the changes by speaking out. “We need people, especially those outside of Madison, to stand up and say this is not okay,” Sargent said. “Talk with your parents, your family members who are alumni, those from smaller campuses like Stout, Oshkosh and Whitewater.” If we can collectively raise our voices, about the UW System cuts as well as the attacks on the poor, elderly and our environment, we can seriously impact the amount of damage done onto our state.
We need to make sure people know what’s at stake, and then fight to protect it. Yes, with Walker’s budget, students will be hurt, but they are not the only ones. The budget will also hurt the elderly, the poor and the land we are all proud to call home. Stand up, speak out and support the Wisconsin we know and love.
Alex Derr ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in environmental studies and political science.