In Wisconsin, pro sports gets cash, education gets cut

Critics of soon-to-be-presidential-candidate Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin have certainly noticed the message he sent this week about what’s important in his state: professional sports, specifically an NBA franchise.

Walker proposed spending $220 million to build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, arguing that the state will lose $10 million in income taxes if the Bucks leave the city.

He called his proposal “Pay Your Way” because he theorizes that the player taxes are negating the state’s investment.

This is the same argument previously used in Minnesota.

At the same time, Walker has proposed cutting $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system, a move that university officials say would result in layoffs. Walker did not mention how much the state would lose in income taxes under the deal.

For years now, it’s been proven that professional sports aren’t a financial boon to any area. And yet governors — Tim Pawlenty, Mark Dayton, it doesn’t really matter what political party they’re in — keep citing the claim because it works.

But Walker’s timing is one of the few times that officials have put education and professional sports side by side and said figuratively, “this is the more important one.”

This might be good news for Minnesota, James Rowen, no fan of Walker, writes on his blog about the proposed cut.

“Get ready for an onslaught of applications and transfers, Minnesota,” he says.

Conservative blogger Chris Rochester says Walker’s move on higher education makes sense.

This arrangement makes sense. I attended Viterbo University for my first two years of college, a private university that receives no state aid and therefore is limited only by the regulations foisted on them by the feds via federal student aid. The state rightly has little or no say.

For the remaining 35 years of my college education I went to UW-La Crosse, where I became the student newspaper’s editor and covered two rounds of deep budget cuts by Jim Doyle. It made no sense to me that politicians would slash funding but give up none of their power.

Eventually, I thought, taxpayers will contribute virtually nothing yet politicians in the legislature will still control the most byzantine of minutiae like where UW-Stout buys its kitchen rags. With declining support from the legislature, the system starts looking like a private university system – it only makes sense for the legislature to have less control over the system.

And it is, in fact, a debate worth having.

In its editorial, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel refused to see a link between the two choices, calling the governor’s financing scheme “a reasonable and sound investment.”

“The university cuts were expected anyway and Walker is not using those cuts to directly fund the arena,” it said.