David Giroux calls it "indicative of the animosity" some members of the Legislature have toward the university and its institutions. The Assembly version of the state budget, besides leaving the UW System about $120 million short of what it needs to maintain the status quo, would end state support for a half-dozen UW-affiliated programs, including Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.
"We're talking about a complete defunding," says Giroux, spokesperson for the UW System. And while he hopes this funding is restored when the Assembly budget is merged with the Senate's, a process now underway, he's not making any predictions.
"The worry is that with such a rift, we might end up at the halfway point, and the halfway point is still pretty bad."
The GOP-controlled Assembly wants to cut $13 million over the biennium from Wisconsin Public Radio and TV about a third of their total budgets. The only remaining state support would be for school-related educational programming.
"It would basically take the Wisconsin out of Wisconsin Public Broadcasting," says Kathy Bissen, WPT's director of news and public affairs. All locally produced programming, from Here and Now to broadcasts of "Concerts on the Square," would be discontinued, and about 70 people around the state from both the TV and radio operations would lose their jobs.
"It would be devastating," agrees Phil Corriveau, director of Wisconsin Public Radio. State funding now pays the salaries of producers and hosts - "mostly local-content people, and local content is the thing we're famous for." Both Corriveau and Bissen say a state-funding cutoff would turn their operations into a "pass-through service" for NPR and PBS programming.
The Assembly budget also axes funding to several other UW programs, if not all in the 2007-09 biennium, then over the next several years.
Gone would be all state support for the UW Law School. The provision's author, state Rep. Frank Lasee (R-Green Bay), says Wisconsin already has too many lawyers, whom he pegs as "ambulance chasers" who file "frivolous lawsuits."
The budget would also phase out state aid to the UW School of Workers, the UW-Madison Havens Center and the Wisconsin Humanities Council. The total reduction is about $1.2 million, a small portion of their total, which now comes mostly from service fees. In fact, that's precisely why they face defunding.
"We tried to look for things that [can] run as fee-supported programs," says Mike Mikalson, chief of staff to state Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), who proposed cuts to these three programs. Nass has previously questioned a School of Workers-affiliated news service and the Havens Center on grounds that they promote a liberal agenda. But Mikalson says the goal is simply to not fund programs that have a proven ability to be self-sufficient.
"The [budget] doesn't say they can't do what they've doing," he explains. "It just backs off the GPR [general purpose revenue]."
Giroux is troubled by such reasoning. "The risk is that someday the Legislature will take that approach with the whole university," he says, noting that state support for the UW System now stands at just 24% of the total. Over the years, the system has done a terrific job raising funds from other sources. But, he wonders, "At what point will our success be our downfall?"